LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
[John Wilson]
Moore’s Byron.
Blackwood’s Magazine  Vol. 27  No. 163  (February 1830)  389-420.
GO TO PART:  1   2 
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH





Life of Byron, by Moore, dedicated to Scott, is a short sentence that sounds like a trumpet! ’Tis a spirit-stirring reveille. Seldom, if ever—not to refuse another image that instantaneously suggests itself—have we seen the Rose, the Shamrock, and the Thistle, in such beautiful—such magnificent union. Three such fixed stars—pardon us for being so poetical—are not to be seen burning together, in a small serene spot of blue of a few hundred millions of miles in circumference—every night—that is once every thousand years—in heaven. Figures of speech apart, these three Poets—alike, but oh! how different—are, as we could soon shew, by many sufficient causes, allied, in their works, to our imagination. Add Campbell and the Partie Quarrée would be as harmonious as the music of the spheres. The other poetical luminaries of the age must constitute various constellations for themselves; celestial clubs of which it might be perilous to elect the presidents. That is their own look-out, not ours—so we return—not to our mutton, but our venison—not to our sheep, but our wild-deer—to Aberdeen and to Byron.

The Childe—thank Heaven—was half a Scotchman by birth—and half a Scotchman by education; and that, if we mistake not, makes up a whole Scotchman. This, on the one hand, accounts for his not having been a Cockney, but, on the other, magnifies the mystery of his acquaintance with Leigh Hunt. That small sinner and insignificant slave—a viper in a vice—dies under this noble Quarto. Mr Moore, speaking of the day on which Byron and he—under the “influence of malignant star,” dined with the calumnious convict in “durance vile,” and subjected themselves to the contamination of the “dropping in of some of our host’s literary acquaintance,” laments—as a man must do, who has had the misfortune of once in his life shaking hands, even by means of the finger-tips, with a Cockney—the deep degradation of that day and dinner with a jail-bird. “Among these,” (the Cockney crew) he says, “I remember was Mr John Scott, the writer, afterwards, of some severe attacks on Lord Byron; and it is painful to think that, among the persons then assembled round the Poet, there should have been one so soon to step forth an assailant of his living fame, while another, less manful, would reserve the cool venom for his grave.” We remember—for the loathsome will not be forgotten—how, when on that fatal divorce, yet a mystery to the whole world, the soul of the poet was “wrenched with a woeful agony,” and all England, whom his glorious genius had glorified, stood scowling aloof on his desolation, how some of those wretches turned round to sting the feet from which they had been pitifully proud to lick the dust. Of all such, not one darted forth a more poisonous fang than the infatuated person who, in Mr Moore’s too mild expression, “stepped forth the assailant of his living fame.” Leigh Hunt, he says, was less manful than John Scott. That we deny. There could be nothing manly—there must have been everything most unmanly—in bitterly abusing Byron at that cruel crisis of his life. Scott did so—and forsooth as a champion of the morality—the religion of the land! He wrote of Byron as if he had been a felon—and condemned him as from the judgment-seat. Hunt would fain have defended Byron, and made a shew of such defence; but the Scotch Cockney, equally base, but bolder in his baseness, frightened him of Little Britain by threats of exposure, which, unintelligible to all others, were understood by the poor creature to whose ears they were savagely muttered—and the courage of him of the yellow breeches was overturned like a cup of saloop. Scott, years afterwards, had the effrontery to seek out Byron abroad, and was, we believe, not unkindly received by the noble being, whom he had, for the sake of lucre, hypocritically traduced—denying to him even the character of a man! In all this we can see nothing “more manful” than in Hunt’s reservation of his cool venom for Byron’s grave!

Think not that such disgustful re-

Letters and Journals of Lord Byron: With Notices of his Life. By Thomas Moore. Vol. I. 4to. Murray, London, 1830.
390Moore’s Byron
collections are out of place here—this is the very—the only place—where they shall be suffered to intrude—and henceforth and for evermore, let them evanish from all minds into oblivion—having left behind them in
Mr Moore’s heart, and in the heart of every man whose acquaintance has ever been cultivated by a Cockney, an invincible repugnance, like an instructed instinct—and a resolution strong as death—never, for the sake even of charity and compassion for the poor and profligate—to inhale the same air with any of that godless gang—for even the fire round the lips of genius is found ineffectual against the breath of disease and pollution. Politics, thank Heaven, and not poetry, took Byron and Moore to the Cockney’s cell. “It will be recollected,” says Moore, “that there existed among the Whig party, at this period, a strong feeling of indignation at the late defection from themselves and their principles, of the illustrious personage, who had been so long looked up to as the friend and patron of both. Being myself, at the time, warmly, perhaps intemperately, under the influence of this feeling, I regarded the fate of Mr Hunt with more than common interest, and, immediately on my arrival in town, paid him a visit in his prison.” “On mentioning the circumstance, soon after, to Lord Byron, and describing my surprise at the sort of luxurious comfort with which I had found the ‘wit in the dungeon’ surrounded—his trellised flower-garden without, and his books, busts, pictures, and Piano-forte within! the noble Poet, whose political view of the case coincided entirely with my own, expressed a strong wish to pay a similar tribute of respect to Mr Hunt, and accordingly, a day or two afterwards, we proceeded for that purpose to the prison.” Of that visit to the caitiff, all the world knows the ultimate consequences—the cool venom of the Cockney spat over his benefactor’s grave! But we love not Byron or Moore the less for their degrading indiscretion; they have themselves afforded us a key to unlock that prison-door; and it is consoling to know, that it was not turned by the hand of any one of the Nine Muses. Both Bards, it is true, for some time afterwards did all they could to admire Rimini; but it would not do; and when Byron charitably requested Moore to use his influence with Jeffrey, to get the divine right of King of Cockneydom acknowledged in the Edinburgh Review, Moore confesses, with some compliments “with respect to Hunt’s poem,—I really could not undertake to praise it seriously. There is so much of the quizzible in all he writes, that I never can put on the proper pathetic face in reading him.” Nor could any body else, except for a minute or so, after, perhaps, coming out of the Cave of Trophonius.

Byron, we have said, was a Scotchman. However, let England and Scotland divide him between them, and they will not quarrel over his glorious remains. From the middle of his third to the middle of his eleventh year, he lived in Aberdeen.
“In truth, he was a wild and wayward wight,”
and, though not the Edwin of
Beattie, “no vulgar boy.” Beattie knew not there was a young minstrel,
“And he, I trow, was of the North countree,”
who often passed by the college-gates destined one day to sing a far loftier song, and far better to unfold
“All the dread magnificence of Heaven!”

Byron’s father was a Scamp—and his mother a Scold. The Scamp soon died—the Scold lived on to torment and trouble him. But she had a mother’s heart; and though—horrid, shocking, and affecting, to think of it—often in her fits of rage, accused him in words as vulgar as the sentiment was impious—of the deformity which one of his feet brought with it from her womb—he loved her living, and wept her dead—with the fine sense of inextinguishable filial piety, felt that in spite of those unnatural storms, (yet, perhaps, after all, though fearful, not unnatural,) she passionately loved him too—so that at last, we see him, with stealthy step, creeping at midnight to the chamber of death, and hear him groaning beside her corpse.

Sometimes we have felt as if Mr Moore had spoken out too strongly about this vulgar, violent, but affectionate woman. Yet we believe that on the whole he has done right
Moore’s Byron391
Byron, being of that blood, possessed much of the physical temperament—and his spiritual being, with all its grandeur, owned its union with a bodily frame given to it by the heiress of the old Highland House of Gight and Gordon, and by a father whose veins swelled as tumultuously as those of any of his ancestors—the Byrons having shewn themselves, through all periods of their history, a hot-hearted race. After the period of the Civil Wars, when so many individuals of the house of Byron distinguished themselves,—no less than seven brothers of that family fought on the field at Edgehill; and Mr Moore finely and truly says, that in reviewing cursorily the ancestors of Lord Byron, both near and remote, it cannot fail to be remarked how strikingly he combined in his own nature some of the best and perhaps worst qualities, that lie scattered through the various characters of his predecessors—the generosity, the love of enterprise, the high-mindedness of some of the better spirits of his race, with the irregular passions, the eccentricity, and the daring recklessness of the world’s opinion, that so much characterised others. Such as the famous Commodore—Rough-weather Jack—his grand-uncle, who slew Mr Chaworth, and afterwards led the life of a half-insane recluse, and his own father, whose character was tinged with darker stains, and twisted into worse distortion. His own character was neither darkly stained, nor yet distorted; but the gloom in which it grew up was nevertheless a mystery of his birth—and a fatal something, which we might in vain seek to analyse or to name, seems almost to have been a hereditary curse.

His father was as proud as Lucifer—and we fear, wicked as Beelzebub, and mean as Mammon. His mother was as fierce as Alecto—but in being a mother, had a great advantage over that celebrated Fury. The Mammon died out—but not so the Fury and the other Devils. His ancestors had always been proud on both sides of the house. But theirs was pre-eminently the pride of birth—or of bravery; his was that pride too—for none but a Cockney-coward ever doubted his courage;—but to that two-fold pride, he added a third more glorious part, the pride of genius. All three played like desperate gamesters into each other’s hands, against the world—but the world held the honours—and Byron lost the game—although eternal justice has stepped in—and in spite of all his delinquencies has given up the stakes—which were glory—to Childe Harold.

The little that Mr Moore has been able to collect about Byron’s infancy and first boyhood, is deeply interesting indeed, and most impressively narrated. Yet what can be certainly known of the infancy and first boyhood of any human being? How imperfectly known must they be to the man himself—how much more so to those who, through the distant gloom, would seek for the glimmer? Yet through that gloom, when we know that it shrouded the soul of genius, with what intensity of vision do we strive to pierce! If in future life we have known that the temper was “strong and turbulent,” we listen to old women’s tales in explanation of the growth of the phenomenon, and gather up the traditionary gossip that relates even to the time when he who, perhaps, afterwards set the world on fire, was “muling and puking in his nurse’s arms.” Thus we go back with a strange deep interest with Mr Moore to the most childish anecdotes of Byron’s childhood.

“From London, Mrs Byron proceeded with her infant to Scotland, and in the year 1790, took up her residence in Aberdeen, where she was soon after joined by Captain Byron. Here for a short time they lived together in lodgings at the house of a person named Anderson, in Queen-street. But their union being by no means happy, a separation took place between them, and Mrs Byron removed to lodgings at the other end of the street. Notwithstanding this schism, they for some time continued to visit, and even to drink tea with each other; but the elements of discord were strong on both sides, and their separation was, at last, complete and final. He would frequently, however, accost the nurse and his son in their walks, and expressed a strong wish to have the child for a day or two on a visit with him. To this request Mrs Byron was, at first, not very willing to accede, but, on the representation of the nurse, that ‘if he kept the boy one night, he would not do so another,’ she consent-
392Moore’s Byron
ed. The event proved as the nurse had predicted; on enquiring next morning after the child, she was told by Captain Byron that he had had quite enough of his young visitor, and she might take him home again.

“It should be observed, however, that Mrs Byron, at this period, was unable to keep more than one servant, and that, sent as the boy was, on this occasion, to encounter the trial of a visit without the accustomed superintendence of his nurse, it is not so wonderful that he should have been found, under such circumstances, rather an unmanageable guest. That, as a child, his temper was violent, or rather sullenly passionate, is certain. Even when in petticoats, he showed the same uncontrollable spirit with his nurse, which he afterwards exhibited when an author, with his critics. Being angrily reprimanded by her one day, for having soiled or torn a new frock, in which he had been just dressed, he got into one of his ‘silent rages,’ (as he himself described them,) seized the frock with both his hands, and rent it from top to bottom, and stood in sullen stillness, setting his censurer and her wrath at defiance.

“But, notwithstanding this, and other such unruly outbreaks, in which he was but too much encouraged by the example of his mother, who frequently, it is said, proceeded to the same extremities with her caps, gowns, &c., there was in his disposition, as appears from the concurrent testimony of nurses, tutors, and all who were employed about him, a mixture of affectionate sweetness and playfulness, by which It was impossible not to be attached; and which rendered him then, as in his riper years, easily manageable by those who loved and understood him sufficiently to be at once gentle and firm enough for the task. The female attendant of whom we have spoken, as well as her sister, May Gray, who succeeded her, gained an influence over his mind, against which he very rarely rebelled; while his mother, whose capricious excesses, both of anger and of fondness, left her little hold on either his respect or affection, was indebted solely to his sense of filial duty for any small portion of authority she was ever able to acquire over him.”

Temper! knew you ever a child—a boy—or man, with a good temper? Very rarely—and if sincere, reader, whoever thou art, allow that thine own is not among the number. You may have forgotten—or may not choose to remember—but your mother and your nurse will to their dying day—the impishness of your short frocks—and of your first, second, and third pair of breeches—How you kicked, and how you squalled for no reason on earth—for surely you had not always a pain in your bowels—but merely because you were a little devil incarnate! Why so suddenly glowed with rage your unmeaning, “shining morning-face,” like the north-west moon? Why flung you your pest of a body down upon the carpet, rolling in convulsions, even during a forenoon-visit of the minister coming to pray, till a double pull of the bell-rope, breaking, perhaps, in the agitated hand of maternal love and anger, brought up nurse, with a face almost as red as your own, to root you from the Kidderminster, and carry the living squall in a whirlwind, up to the sky-roof story, to the danger of the very slates? We pass over your foolish resistance when thrust into the chaise that first trundled you to school, seven miles off—your unexpected and most unwelcome return upon your distressed parents’ hands, with a letter depicting you as the plague—all the “disastrous chances which your youth suffered,” out of the pure spite with which you interrupted them when trotting along on their own errands, or “waukened sleeping dogs”—your expulsion from college, almost immediately subsequent to that from school—and the troubled term in which your temper gave rise to the most serious suspicions that it would be vain for you to enter upon any profession, even that of an attorney; for which your temper was too quarrelsome and litigious. We omit all allusion to those eras, and are willing to take you—as you are now—the bane of civil society, and the tyrant in your own unhappy house, over a wife afraid to lift her eyes from the ground, and children, prevented only by fear from exhibiting a ferocity equal to that of their father—And you abuse the bad temper of Byron! You, whose mother, perhaps, was a mawsey, and father a dolt!

But we may go a little higher—or at once to the highest. Let us go to the Great Living Poets. Who knows the temper of Sir Walter Scott? Probably not we, and certainly not you; but let the whole world be assured of this—that though as mild
Moore’s Byron393
in his usual moods as a lion—those shaggy eye-brows were not given—did not grow yonder—for nothing; and that he can roar—and often has roared, so as to shake all Ettrick, as if it had been the Lybian Forest.
Wordsworth, on an Excursion, is generally as meek as becomes a lyrical ballad-monger, which he is to his eternal fame. But those still, profound eyes—with which he keeps looking for Truth in the bottom of the many silver wells among the mountains of Westmoreland—till he sees shining there the reflection of the mid-day stars—can lighten with less hallowed rays, and flash forth—sometimes most needlessly—most human—most earth-born anger, uncongenial with the poetical or philosophical “moods of his own” or any other rational man’s mind. We go no farther—and we can go no higher; but who, although he
“Holds each strange tale devoutly true,”
the less loves, admires, and venerates those two spirits of good and great men not yet made perfect, for failings, frailties, vices, sins—call them what you will, and fear not—cling to the clay of which they are composed in common with all the rest of the children of mankind? Why then do you who make pilgrimages to Abbotsford and to Rydal-Mount—as to the shrines of Saints—shut your eyes to the bursts of their infernal and diabolical tempers—merely because they have never fallen on your own obscure and insignificant pericraniums; and yet on repairing to Newstead-Abbey, persist in moralizing over the unhappy temper and so forth of poor
Byron, who, no more than they, ever injured you or yours, and whose temper, though often rolling and roaring like the Atlantic, was yet far, far oftener—and but for the blasts of heaven, would have been so almost always—like the tideless Mediterranean sea, whose shores he has, even beyond the power of ancient genius, glorified by his immortal song? Speak—or be for ever dumb.

Byron’s boyhood was on the whole beautiful. But, from the first dawn, it was beauty of a troubled kind. By an accident, which, it is said, occurred at the time of his birth, one of his feet was twisted out of its natural position; and this defect, chiefly from the contrivances employed to remedy it, was a source of much pain and inconvenience to him during his infant years. The nurse, to whom fell the task of putting on these machines, or bandages, at bed-time, would often sing him to sleep, or tell him stories or legends, in which, like most other children, he took great delight. She also taught him, while yet an infant, to repeat a great number of the Psalms; and the first and twenty-third Psalms were among the earliest that he committed to memory—as they have been to many millions of other children. Out of those lessons arose, long afterwards, the “Hebrew Melodies.” But for them, never would they have been written, though he had studied Lowth on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews all his life. When not quite five years old, he was sent to a day-school, (terms for reading, five shillings the quarter,) kept by a Mr Bowers, whom, Byron tells us, the boys called “Bodsey Bowers,” by reason of his dapperness.

“It was a school for both sexes. I learned little there except to repeat by rote the first lesson of monosyllables, (‘God made man—let us love him’) by hearing it often repeated, without acquiring a letter. Whenever proof was made of my progress at home, I repeated these words with the most rapid fluency; but on turning over a new leaf, I continued to repeat them, so that the narrow boundary of my first year’s accomplishments was detected, my ears boxed, (which they did not deserve, seeing it was by ear only that I had acquired my letters,) and my intellects consigned to a new preceptor. He was a very devout, clever little clergyman, named Ross, afterwards minister of one of the kirks, (East, I think.) Under him I made astonishing progress, and I recollect to this day his mild manners and good-natured pains-taking. The moment I could read, my grand passion was history, and why, I know not, but I was particularly taken with the battle near the Lake Regillas in the Roman history, put into my hands the first. Four years ago, when standing on the heights of Tusculum, and looking down upon the little round lake that was once Regillas, and which dots the immense expanse below, I remembered my young enthusiasm and my old instructor. Afterwards, I had a very serious, saturnine, but kind young man, named Paterson, for a tutor. He
394Moore’s Byron
was the son of my shoemaker, but a good scholar, as is common with the Scotch. He was a rigid Presbyterian also. With him I began Latin in
Ruddiman’s Grammar, and continued till I went to the Grammar School, (Scotice, Schule; Aberdonice, Squeel,) where I threaded all the classes to the fourth, when I was recalled to England, (where I had been hatched,) by the demise of my uncle. I acquired this handwriting, which I can hardly read myself, under the fair copies of Mr Duncan of the same city; I don’t think he would plume himself much upon my progress. However, I wrote much better then than I have ever done since. Haste and agitation of one kind or another have quite spoilt as pretty a scrawl as ever scratched over a frank.”

On examining the quarterly lists at “the Grammar School” of Aberdeen, in which the names of the boys are set down according to the station each holds in his class, it appears, that in April of the year 1794, the name of Byron, then in the second class, stands twenty-third in a list of thirty-eight boys. In the April of 1798, however, he had risen to be fifth of the fourth class, consisting of twenty-seven boys, and had got ahead of several of his contemporaries, who had previously always stood before him. But Byron, at school, had “an alacrity at sinking.”

“He was, indeed, much more anxious to distinguish himself among his schoolfellows by prowess in all sports and exercises, than by advancement in learning. Though quick, when he could be persuaded to attend, or had any study that pleased him, he was in general very low in the class, nor seemed ambitious of being promoted any higher. It is the custom, it seems, in this seminary, to invert, now and then, the order of the class, so as to make the highest and lowest boys change places,—with a view no doubt of piquing the ambition of both. On these occasions, and only these, Byron was sometimes at the head; and the master, to banter him, would say, ‘Now, George, man, let me see how soon you’ll be at the foot again.’”

But we seek more anxiously for other dispositions in the boy Byron, than those towards his books—or even his plays; though it is pleasant to be told that the old Porter at the college “minded weel” the little boy, with the red jacket and nankeen trowsers, whom he has so often turned out of the college court-yard; that he was “a good hand at marbles, and could spin one farther than most boys; excelling also at ‘Bases,’—a game which requires considerable swiftness of foot.” But of his class-fellows at the Grammar School, there are many, of course, still alive, by whom he is well remembered; and the general impression that they retain of him is,—that he was a lively, warm-hearted, and spirited boy, passionate and resentful, but affectionate and companionable with his schoolfellows, to a remarkable degree venturesome and fearless, and, as one of them significantly expressed it, “always more ready to give a blow than to take one.”

“Among many anecdotes illustrative of this spirit, it is related that once, in returning home from school, he fell in with a boy who had on some former occasion insulted him, but had then got off unpunished; little Byron, however, at the time promising to ‘pay him off’ whenever they should meet again. Accordingly, on this second encounter, though there were some other boys to take his opponent’s part, he succeeded in inflicting upon him a hearty beating. On his return home, breathless, the servant enquired what he had been about, and was answered by him, with a mixture of rage and humour, that he had been paying a debt by beating a boy according to promise; for that he was a Byron, and would never belie his motto—‘Trust Byron.’”

During this period his mother and ho made occasionally visits among their friends, passing some time at Feteresso, the seat of his god-father, Colonel Duff—where the child’s delight with a humorous old butler, named Earnest Fidler, is still remembered. In 1799, after an attack of scarlet fever, his mother took him, for change of air, into the Highlands—to a farmhouse in the neighbourhood of Ballater, forty miles up the Dee; and there, as Mr Moore says, “the dark summit of Lochin-y-gair stood towering before the eyes of the future Bard; and the verses in which, not many years afterwards, he commemorated this sublime object, shew that, young as he was at the time, its ‘frowning glories’ were not unnoticed by him. Mr Moore beautifully, truly, and philosophically says,—

“To the wildness and grandeur of the scenes, among which his childhood was
Moore’s Byron395
passed, it is not unusual to trace the first awakening of his poetic talent. But it may be questioned whether this faculty was ever so produced. That the charm of scenery, which derives its chief power from fancy and association, should he much felt at an age when fancy is yet hardly awake, and associations but few, can with difficulty, even making every allowance for the prematurity of genius, be conceived. The light which the poet sees around the forms of nature, is not so much in the objects themselves, as in the eye that contemplates them; and imagination must first be able to lend a glory to such scenes, before she can derive inspiration from them. As materials, indeed, for the poetic faculty, when developed, to work upon, these impressions of the new and wonderful, retained from childhood, and retained with all the vividness of recollection which belongs to genius, may form, it is true, the purest and most precious part of that aliment with which the memory of the poet feeds his imagination. But still it is the newly-awakened power within him that is the source of the charm;—it is the force of fancy alone that, acting upon his recollection, impregnates, as it were, all the past with poesy. In this respect, such impressions of natural scenery as
Lord Byron received in his childhood, must be classed with the various other remembrances which that period leaves behind—of its innocence, its sports, its first hopes and affections—all of them reminiscences which the poet afterwards converts to his use, but which no more make the poet than—to apply an illustration of Byron’s own—the honey can be said to make the bee which treasures it.”

Byron himself, in a note to his poem “The Island,” tells us, that from this period “I date my love of mountainous countries. I can never forget the effect, a few years afterwards in England, of the only thing I had long seen, even in miniature, of a mountain, in the Malvern Hills. After I returned to Cheltenham, I used to walk there every afternoon at sunset, with a sensation I cannot describe.” Mr Moore observes, that here Byron falls into the not uncommon anachronism in the history of one’s own feelings, of referring to childhood itself that love of mountain-prospects which was but the after-result of his imaginative recollections of that period. Perhaps he did; for either in contemplating a present, or meditating on an absent beautiful scene in nature, we, always do, in, unconscious confusion, blend, as Wordsworth says of his own delight in the grove—in his exquisite poem “Nutting”—“our present feelings with our past”—and thus is constituted one full and entire emotion. But neither Mr Moore—poet as he is of a high, let us say of the highest order—nor any other man, can pretend either to tell or know with what feelings Lord Byron looked on Lochin-y-gair for the first time, and on the sea of mountains rolling away up from Ballater to the Linn of Dee. There must then have been awakenings—and risings—and swellings of the divine spirit within him, that owed not—could not owe—their birth to the power of association. Into his spirit, as into that of the boy (a poet too—though he died when “nine years old,” so it used to be, and so in our mind it will always be, in spite of all new editions) whom Wordsworth describes standing on the shore of Windermere a-listening to the cataracts, what mysterious influences might then have flowed! It is one thing for a boy—a mere child—and that mere child Byron—to see the sun setting—or to be told that he is setting—from the window of a house in a street in Aberdeen—and another thing to see him setting from an observatory facing the western heaven, undistinguishably composed of blended clouds and mountains, all emerald-green, and opal-red, and amethyst-purple; and one such gaze on one such glory was enough to enable and entitle him—many long years afterwards—to look from pretty Cheltenham to the majestic Malverns, with an expansion of spirit which could never have dilated his bosom, had he not luckily had a scarlet fever, and a fond mother, as fierce as any fever, to waft him away, in childhood’s dewy and golden prime, to the land of lights and shadows, of gloom and glimmer, of waving water-courses from those of rivers to rills, and of such risings and settings of suns, to say nothing of all their other day-dreams, as are not to be equalled, we verily believe, in any other region of the earth, “whatever clime the sun’s broad circle warms.”

“His love of solitary rambles, and his taste for exploring in all directions, led him not unfrequently so far as to excite
396Moore’s Byron
serious apprehensions for his safety. While at Aberdeen, he used often to steal from home unperceived; sometimes he would find his way to the sea-side; and once, after a long and anxious search, they found the adventurous little rover struggling in a sort of morass or marsh, from which he was unable to extricate himself.

“In the course of one of his summer excursions up Dee-side, he had an opportunity of seeing still more of the wild beauties of the Highlands than even the neighbourhood of their residence at Ballatrech afforded; having been taken by his mother through the romantic passes that lead to Invercauld, and as far up as the small waterfall, called the Linn of Dee. Here his love of adventure had nearly cost him his life. As he was scrambling along a declivity that overhung the fall, some heather caught his lame foot and he fell. Already he was rolling downward, when the attendant luckily caught hold of him, and was but just in time to save him from being killed.”

About this period too—when not yet quite eight years old—he fell in love. According to his own account, that the feeling took entire possession of his thoughts; shewing, says Mr Moore, how early, in this passion, as in most others, the sensibilities of his nature were awakened. The name of the object of his attachment was Mary Duff—who was, like himself, a mere child—and the following passage from a journal kept by him in 1818, shews how freshly, after an interval of seventeen years, all the circumstances of his early love still lived in his memory. The child who could so feel for fair female infantile flesh and blood may—might—must—have felt many mysterious emotions from the
“Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood.”

“I have been thinking lately a good deal of Mary Duff. How very odd that I should have been so utterly, devotedly fond of that girl, at an age when I could neither feel passion, nor know the meaning of the word. And the effect! My mother used always to rally me about this childish amour; and at lost, many years after, when I was sixteen, she told me one day, ‘Oh, Byron, I have bad a letter from Edinburgh, from Miss Abercromby, and your old sweetheart, Mary Duff, is married to a Mr Coe.’ And what was my answer? I really cannot explain or account for my feelings at that moment; but they nearly threw me into convulsions, and alarmed my mother so much, that, after I grew better, she generally avoided the subject—to me—and contented herself with telling it to all her acquaintance. Now, what could this be? I had never seen her since her mother’s faux-pas at Aberdeen had been the cause of her removal to her grandmother at Banff; we were both the merest children. I had and have been attached fifty times since that period; yet I recollected all we said to each other, all our caresses, her features, my restlessness, sleeplessness, my tormenting my mother’s maid to write for me to her, which she at last did, to quiet me. Poor Nancy thought I was wild, and, as I could not write myself, became my secretary. I remember, too, our walks, and the happiness of sitting by Mary, in the children’s apartment, at their house not far from the Plainstones at Aberdeen, while her lesser sister, Helen, played with the doll, and we sate gravely making love in our way.

“How the deuce did all this occur so early? Where could it originate? I certainly had no sexual ideas for years afterwards; and yet my misery, my love for that girl was so violent, that I sometimes doubt if I have ever been really attached since. Be that as it may, hearing of her marriage several years after, was like a thunder-stroke—it nearly choked me—to the horror of my mother, and the astonishment and almost incredulity of every body. And it is a phenomenon in my existence, (for I was not eight years old,) which has puzzled and will puzzle me to the latest hour of it; and lately, I know not why, the recollection (not the attachment) has recurred as forcibly as ever. I wonder if she can have the least remembrance of it or me? I remember her pitying sister Helen for not having an admirer too. How very pretty is the perfect image of her in my memory—her brown, dark hair, and hazel eyes; her very dress! I should he quite grieved to see her now: the reality, however beautiful, would destroy, or at least confuse, the features of the lovely Peri, which then existed in her, and still lives in my imagination, at the distance of more than sixteen years. I am now twenty-five and odd months.”

Thus strangely strung were all the passions of “the wild and wondrous child.” Now—before—and ever after—his lame foot often troubled his spirit. What signified it? Little or nothing. ’Twas no great deformity—and if it had been, most men would have outgrown the remembrance of so small an evil. But he never did—
Moore’s Byron397
and he to whom God had given wings to glide and soar over all the creation of mind and matter, suffered a club-foot—yet hardly a club-foot—to embitter, to colour his whole existence! Yet was his face “most beautiful to see—a flower of glorious feature!” And his figure, too, shewed “a child of strength and state.” But that one imperfection made him often forget that he was in face, form, and spirit an Apollo. Whenever he beheld a Venus, he thought of Vulcan. Had he been ugly, his lame foot would not have distressed him; but formed in all other things “in the prodigality of Heaven,” and over women to be irresistible, here he was liable to the ludicrous—vulnerable not only in the heel, but in the sole, the toes, and the instep—on that one deformity the eyes of high-born beauty in her most melting mood might fall, and seem to his distempered imagination to loath as it lingered—while the vulgar prostitute, as she spied the defect, burst out—so it once happened—into fits of drunken laughter—and when raised by his pitying hand that proffered the boon of charity, from the cold stone steps where the wretch had flung herself down to houseless sleep, ran off howling her hideous scorn in a storm of curses.
Mr Moore does not shrink from some affecting recitals respecting this “defect in nature.”

“The malformation of his foot was, even at this childish age, a subject on which he shewed peculiar sensitiveness. I hare been told by a gentleman of Glasgow, that the person who nursed his wife, and who still lives in his family, used often to join the nurse of Byron when they were out with their respective charges, and one day said to her, as they walked together, ‘What a pretty boy Byron is—what a pity he has such a leg!’ On hearing this allusion to his infirmity, the child’s eyes flashed with anger, and striking at her with a little whip which he held in his hand, he exclaimed, impatiently, ‘Dinna speak of it!’ Sometimes, however, as in after life, he could talk indifferently, and even jestingly, of his lameness; and there being another little boy in the neighbourhood, who had a similar defect in one of his feet, Byron would say, laughingly, ‘Come and see the twa laddies with the twa club feet going up the Broad Street.’”

One of the most striking passages in the few pages of his own Memoir which related to his early days, is when, in speaking of his own sensitiveness on the subject of his deformed foot, he described the feeling of horror and humiliation that came over him when his mother, in one of her fits of passion, (as alluded to above,) called him “a lame brat.” “As all,” says Mr Moore, “that he had felt strongly through life was, in some shape or other, reproduced in his poetry, it was not likely that an expression such as this should fail of being recorded. Accordingly, we find, in the opening of his drama, ‘The Deformed Transformed,’
Bertha. Out, Hunchback!
Arnold. I was born so, mother.’
It may be questioned, indeed, whether this whole drama was not indebted for its origin to this secret recollection.”

Farther on in the volume, we meet with another anecdote, illustrative of the mental agonies he was often doomed to suffer from the same cause. When in love with Miss Chaworth—then a mere schoolboy—if at any moment he had flattered himself with the hope of being loved by her, a circumstance mentioned in his “Memoranda,” as one of the most painful humiliations to which the defect in his foot exposed him, must have let the truth in with desperate certainty upon his heart. He either was told of it, or heard Miss Chaworth saying to her maid, “Do you think I could care any thing for that lame boy?” This speech, as he himself described it, was like a shot through his heart! Though late at night when he heard it, he instantly darted out of the house, and, scarcely knowing whither he ran, never stopped till he found himself at Newstead. Years after that trial, and after he had been at Cambridge, we meet with another instance how, by that slight blemish, (as in his hours of melancholy ha persuaded himself,) all the blessings that nature had showered upon him were counterbalanced. His reverend friend, Mr Becher, finding him one day unusually dejected, endeavoured to cheer and rouse him by representing, in their brightest colours, all the various advantages with which Providence had endowed him, and, among the greatest, “that of a
398Moore’s Byron
mind which placed him above the rest of mankind.” “Ah! my dear friend,” said
Byron, mournfully, “if this (laying his hand on his forehead) places me above the rest of mankind, that (pointing to his foot) places me far—far below them.” “Nay, sometimes,” continues Mr Moore, “it seemed as if his sensitiveness on this point led him to fancy that he was the only person in the world afflicted with such an infirmity.” When that accomplished scholar and traveller, Mr D. Bailey, who was at the same school with him at Aberdeen, met him afterwards at Cambridge, the young peer had then grown so fat, that, though accosted by him familiarly as his schoolfellow, it was not till he mentioned his name, that Mr Bailey could recognise him. “It is odd enough, too, that you should not know me,” said Byron; “I thought Nature had set such a mark upon me, that I could never be forgot.” But what follows is sadder still. In Greece he spoke often of his mother to Lord Sligo, and with a feeling that seemed little short of aversion.—“Some time or other,” he said, “I will tell you why I feel thus towards her.” A few days after, when they were bathing together in the Gulf of Lepanto, he referred to this promise, and, pointing to his naked leg and foot, exclaimed, “Look there! it is to her false delicacy at my birth I owe that deformity; and yet, as long as I can remember, she has never ceased to taunt and reproach me with it. Even a few days before we parted, for the last time, on my leaving England, she, in one of her fits of passion, uttered an imprecation upon me, praying that I might prove as ill formed in mind as I am in body.” “His look and manner in relating this frightful circumstance can be conceived only by those,” says Mr Moore, “who have ever seen him in a similar state of excitement.”

But we return to his boyhood at Aberdeen. Among many instances of his quickness and energy at the early age we have been speaking of, his nurse mentioned a little incident that one night occurred, on her taking him to the theatre to see the “Taming of the Shrew.” He had attended to the performance for some time with silent interest; but, in the scene between Catherine and Petruchio, where the following dialogue takes place,—
Cat. I know it is the moon—
Pet. Nay—then you lie—it is the blessed sun,”—
Geordie, (as they called the child,) starting from his seat, cried out boldly, “But I say it is the moon, sir.”

“Though the chance of his succession to the title of his ancestors was for some time altogether uncertain,—there being, so late as 1794, a grandson of the fifth Lord still alive,—his mother had, from his very birth, cherished a strong persuasion that he was destined not only to be a Lord, but, ‘a great man.’ One of the circumstances on which she founded this belief, was, singularly enough, his lameness;—for what reason, it is difficult to conceive, except that, possibly, (having a mind of the most superstitious cast,) she had consulted on the subject some village fortune-teller, who, to ennoble this infirmity in her eyes, had linked the future destiny of the child with it.

“By the death of the grandson of the old Lord at Corsica, in 1794, the only claimant that had hitherto stood between little George and the immediate succession to the Peerage, was removed; and the increased importance, which this event conferred upon them, was felt, not only by Mrs Byron, but by the young future Baron of Newstead himself. In the winter of 1787, his mother having chanced one day to read port of a speech, spoken in the House of Commons, a friend who was present, said to the boy, ‘We shall have the pleasure, some time or other, of reading your speeches in the House of Commons.’—‘I hope not,’ was his answer; ‘if you read any speeches of mine, it will be in the House of Lords.’

“The title, of which he thus early anticipated the enjoyment, devolved to him but too soon. Had he been left to struggle on for ten years longer, as plain George Byron, there can be little doubt that his character would have been, in many respects, the better for it. In the following, year, his grand-uncle, the fifth Lord Byron, died at Newstead Abbey, having passed the latter years of his strange life in a state of austere and almost savage seclusion. It is said, that the day after little Byron’s accession to that title, he ran up to his mother, and asked her, ‘whether she perceived any difference in him since he had been made a Lord, as he perceived none himself?’—a quick and natural thought; but the child little knew what a total and talismanic change had
Moore’s Byron399
been wrought in all his future relations with society, by the simple addition of that word before his name. That the event, as a crisis in his life, affected him, even at this time, may be collected from the agitation which he is said to have manifested on the important morning, when his name was first called out in school, with the title ‘Dominus,’ prefixed to it. Unable to give utterance to the usual answer, ‘Adsum,’ he stood silent amid the general stare of his schoolfellows; and, at last, burst into tears.”

On the death of his eccentric grand-uncle, “the little boy who lived at Aberdeen” had become Lord Byron—a Ward in Chancery—while Lord Carlisle, who was in some degree connected with the family, was appointed his guardian. In the autumn of 1798, Mrs Byron and her son, attended by their faithful May Gray, left Aberdeen for Newstead. Previously to their departure, the furniture of the humble lodging which they had occupied was—with the exception of the plate and linen, which Mrs Byron took with her—sold, and the whole sum that the effects of the mother of the Lord of Newstead yielded, was L.74, 17s. 1½d.

“From the early ago at which Byron was taken to Scotland, as well as from the circumstance of his mother being a native of that country, he had every reason to consider himself—as indeed he boasts in Don Juan—‘half a Scot by birth, and bred a whole one.” We have already seen how warmly he preserved through life his recollection of the mountain scenery in which he was brought up; and in the passage of Don Juan to which I have just referred, his allusion to the romantic bridge of Don, and to other localities of Aberdeen, shews an equal fidelity and fondness of retrospect.
‘As auld langsyne brings Scotland, one and all,
Scotch plaids, Scotch snoods, the blue hills, and clear streams,
The Dee, the Don, Balgounie’s brig’s black wall.
All my boy feelings, all my gentle dreams,
Of what I then dreamt, clothed in their own pall,
Like Banquo’s offspring;—floating past me seems
My childhood in this childishness of mine;—
I care not—’tis a glimpse of auld langsyne!’

“He adds, in a note, ‘The brig of Don, near the “auld town” of Aberdeen, with its one arch, and its black deep salmon stream, is in my memory as yesterday. I still remember, though perhaps I may misquote the awful proverb which made me pause to cross it, and yet lean over it with childish delight, being an only son, at least by the mother’s side. The saying, as recollected by me, was this, but I have never heard or seen it since I was nine years of age:
Brig of Balgounie, black’s your wa’,
Wi a wife’s ae son, and a mear’s ae foal,
Down ye shall fa’.

“To meet with an Aberdonian was at all times a delight to him; and when the late Mr Scott, who was a native of Aberdeen, paid him a visit at Venice, in the year 1819, in talking of the haunts of childhood, one of the places he particularly mentioned was Wallace Nook, a spot where there is a rude statue of the Scottish chief still standing. From first to last, indeed, these recollections of the country of bis youth never forsook him. In his early voyage into Greece, not only the shapes of the mountains, but the kilts and hardy forms of the Albanese, all, as ha says, carried him back to Morven; and in his last fatal expedition, the dress which he himself chiefly wore at Cephalonia was a tartan jacket.

“Cordial, however, and deep as were the impressions which he retained of Scotland, he would sometimes in this, as in all his other amiable feelings, endeavour perversely to belie his own better nature; and, when under the excitement of anger or ridicule, persuade not only others, but even himself, that the whole current of his feelings ran directly otherwise. The abuses with which, in his anger against the Edinburgh Review, he overwhelmed every thing Scotch, is an instance of this temporary triumph of wilfulness; and, at any time, the least association of ridicule with the country or its inhabitants, was sufficient, for the moment, to put all his sentiment to flight. A friend of his once described to me the half-playful rage into which she saw him thrown, one day, by a heedless girl, who remarked, that she thought ‘he had a little of the Scotch accent.’—‘Good God! I hope not!’ exclaimed he; ‘I’m sure, I haven’t. I would rather the whole d——d country were sunk in the sea. I, the Scotch accent!’

“To such sallies, however, whether in writing or conversation, but little weight is to be allowed,—particularly in comparison with those strong testimonies which he has left on record, of his fondness for his early home; and, while on his side this feeling so indelibly existed, there is, on the part of the people of Aberdeen, who consider him as almost their fellow-townsman, a correspondent warmth of affection for his memory and name.

“The various houses where he resided in his youth, are pointed out to the traveller. To have seen him but once, is a recollection boasted of with pride; and
400Moore’s Byron
the Brig of Don, beautiful in itself, is invested, by his mere mention of it, with an additional charm. Two or three years since, the sum of five pounds was offered to a person in Aberdeen, for a letter which he had in his possession, written by
Captain Byron, a few days before his death; and, among the memorials of the young poet, which are treasured up by individuals of that place, there is one which it would have not a little amused himself to hear of, being no less characteristic a relic, than an old China saucer, out of which he had bitten a large piece, in a fit of passion, when a child.”

It was in the summer of 1798, that Lord Byron, then in his eleventh year, left Scotland with his mother and nurse, to take possession of the ancient seat of his ancestors. Never again saw he Scotland—but in his dreams. Never again saw Scotland the glorious being whom she had nursed—not in vain—throughout the passions of his precocious childhood—on her maternal breast. But ’tis glory and delight sufficient to her—for one age—to have had one great Poet—whose feet have seldom strayed, and his spirit never, from her glens and mountains.

One era of the boy Byron’s Life, then, we have seen depicted from such scanty—yet speaking scraps as Mr Moore has been able to collect from authentic sources, and he has presented them in a shape, and spoken of them in a spirit, in every way worthy of a man of genius.

Byron was now placed in Nottingham under the care of a quack called Lavender, who professed to cure such cases of lameness; and his system was to rub the foot over for a considerable time with handfuls of oil, to twist the limb forcibly round, and screw it up in a wooden machine. Meanwhile, the patient took lessons in Latin from a respectable schoolmaster, Mr Rogers, with whom he read Virgil and Cicero, unmoved by torture which proved him a true Stoic. “It makes me uncomfortable,” said Mr Rogers one day to him, “to see you sitting there in such pain as I know you must be suffering.”—“Never mind, Mr Rogers,” answered the heroic boy, “you shall see no signs of it in me.”

“This gentleman, who speaks with the most affectionate remembrance of his pupil, mentions several instances of the gaiety of spirit with which he used to take revenge on his tormentor, Lavender, by exposing and laughing at his pompous ignorance. Among other tricks, he one day scribbled down on a sheet of paper, all the letters of the alphabet, put together at random, but in the form of words and sentences, and, placing them before this all-pretending person, asked him gravely, what language it was. The quack, unwilling to own his ignorance, answered confidently, ‘Italian,’ to the infinite delight, as it may be supposed, of the little satirist in embryo, who burst into a loud triumphant laugh at the success of the trap which he had thus laid for imposture.

“With that mindfulness towards all who had been about him in his youth, which was so distinguishing a trait in his character, he, many years after, when in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, sent a message, full of kindness, to his old instructor, and bid the bearer of it tell him, that, beginning from a certain line in Virgil, which he mentioned, he could recite twenty verses on which he well remembered having read with this gentleman, when suffering all the time the most dreadful pains.”

About this time, according to his nurse, May Gray, he exhibited symptoms of a tendency towards rhyming—thus rallying an old lady who had insulted him, and who had a certain queer creed respecting a future state. If original, the lines do him considerable credit—and are about on a par with the common run of the satirical poetry that used to be written against this Magazine.
In Nottingham county their lives at Swan Green
As curst an old lady as ever was seen;
And when she does die, which I hope will be soon,
She firmly believes she will go to the moon.
The summer following, (1799,)
Mrs Byron removed her boy to London, where he was put under the care of Dr Bailey; and for two years he remained under the tuition of the late excellent Dr Glennie at Dulwich. There he attended well to his studies—and would have attended to them still better but for Mrs Byron, who continued to interfere with and thwart the progress of his education in every way that a fond, wrong-headed mother could devise. Alecto, as her son used afterwards occasionally to
Moore’s Byron401
call her, would sometimes turn Dr Glennle’s house topsy-turvy, on the Doctor’s refusing to grant unnecessary holidays—and the worthy man had one day the pain of overhearing a schoolfellow of his noble pupil say to him, “
Byron, your mother is a fool;” to which the other answered, gloomily, “I know it.” While at Dulwich, his reading in history and poetry was far beyond the usual standard of his age; and the Doctor does not doubt that he had more than once perused from beginning to end a set of our poets from Chaucer to Churchill, to which he had continual access. “He was, too,” the Doctor pointedly writes, “playful, good tempered, and beloved by his companions.” It was possibly during one of the vacations of this year, that the boyish love for his cousin, Miss Parker, to which he attributes the glory of having first inspired him with poetry, took possession of his fancy.

“My first dash into poetry,” he says, “was as early as 1800. It was the ebullition of a passion for my first cousin, Margaret Parker, (daughter and granddaughter of the two Admirals Parker,) one of the most beautiful of evanescent beings. I have long forgotten the verses, but it would be difficult for me to forget her—her dark eyes—her long eyelashes—her completely Greek cast of face and figure! I was then about twelve—she rather older, perhaps a year. She died about a year or two afterwards, in consequence of a fall, which injured her spine, and induced consumption. Her sister Augusta (by some thought still more beautiful) died of the same malady; and it was, indeed, in attending her, that Margaret met with the accident which occasioned her own death. My sister told me, that when she went to see her, shortly before her death, upon accidentally mentioning my name, Margaret coloured through the paleness of mortality to the eyes, to the great astonishment of my sister, who (residing with her grandmother, Lady Holderness, and seeing but little of me for family reasons) knew nothing of our attachment, nor could conceive why my name should affect her at such a time. I knew nothing of her illness, being at Harrow and in the country, till she was gone. Some years after, I made an attempt at an elegy—a very dull one.

“I do not recollect scarcely any thing equal to the transparent beauty of my cousin, or to the sweetness of her temper, during the short period of our intimacy. She looked as if she had been made out of a rainbow—all beauty and peace.

“My passion had its usual effects upon I could not sleep—I could not eat could not rest; and although I had to know that she loved me, it was the texture of my life to think of the time which must elapse before we could meet again—being usually about twelve hours of separation. But I was a fool then, and am not much wiser now!”

He had been nearly two years under the tuition of Dr Glennie, when his mother, unreasonably dissatisfied with the slowness of his progress, took him away,—and in his fourteenth year, he was consigned by Mr Hanson, his solicitor, to the care of the Rev. Dr Drury, at Harrow, where he remained till, in 1805, he went to Cambridge.

Harrow, for the first year and a half, he hated; for he was of a shy disposition then as ever; but the activity and energy of his nature soon conquered that repugnance. During the other years of his stay there, from being “a most unpopular boy,” he rose at length to be a leader in all the sports, schemes, and mischief of the school—at all times cricketing, rowing, and rebelling. The general character which he bore among the masters at Harrow, was that of an idle boy, who would never learn any thing; and, as far as regarded his tasks in school, this reputation was not ill founded.

“But notwithstanding his backwardness in the mere verbal scholarship, on which so large and precious a portion of life is wasted, in all that general and miscellaneous knowledge, which is alone useful in the world, he was making rapid and even wonderful progress. With a mind too inquisitive and excursive to be imprisoned within statutable limits, he flew to subjects that interested his already manly tastes, with a zest which it is in vain to expect that the mere pedantries of school could inspire; and the irregular, but ardent, snatches of study which he caught in this way, gave to a mind like his an impulse forwards, which left more disciplined and plodding competitors far behind. The list, indeed, which he has left on record of the works, in all departments of literature, which he thus hastily and greedily devoured before he was fifteen years of age, is such as almost to startle belief,—comprising as it does, a range and variety of study, which
402Moore’s Byron
might make much older ‘helluones librorum’ hide their heads.”

“My school friendships,” he himself says, “were with me passions;” and it would appear that he generally began them by thrashing their objects. “At Harrow, I fought my way very fairly. I think I lost but one battle out of seven; and that was to H——; and the rascal did not win it, but by the most unfair treatment in his own boarding-house, where we boxed. I had not even a second. I never forgave him, and I should be sorry to meet him now; for I am sure we should quarrel. My most memorable combats were with Morgan, Rice, Rainsford, and Lord Jocelyn; but we were always friendly afterwards.” “To a youth like Byron,” says Mr Moore, “abounding with the most passionate feelings, and finding sympathy with only the ruder parts of his nature at home, the little world, a school, afforded a vent for his affections, which was sure to call them forth, in their most ardent form. His friends were, Robert Peel, George Sinclair, (son of Sir John,) whom he describes in classical acquirements ‘the prodigy of our school days,’ ‘Clayton, another school monster of learning, talent,—and certainly a genius; ‘Poor Wingfield, (died at Coimbra, 1811,) to whom, or all human beings, I was perhaps, at one time, the most attached;’ William Harness, now a clergyman of distinguished talent and erudition, whose acquaintance he first formed on seeing him bullied by a larger boy, saying, ‘Harness, if any one bullies you, tell me, and I’ll thrash him, if I can;’ Lord Clare, whom he loved with a brother’s love, till his dying day, and others, gentlemen or noblemen all, and the cracks of the school. During those years, he became an admirable swimmer; and besides schoolboy fights, occasionally tackled to the ‘clods,’ one of whom, but for the interposition of his friend Tatersall, a lively high-spirited boy, had once, in a skirmish about a cricket ground, fractured Byron’s skull with the but-end of a musket.

“Notwithstanding these general habits of play and idleness, which might seem to indicate a certain absence of reflection and feeling, there were moments when the youthful poet would retire thoughtfully within himself, and give way to moods of musing, uncongenial with the usual cheerfulness of his age. They shew a tomb in the churchyard at Harrow, commanding a view over Windsor, which was so well known to be his favourite resting-place, that the boys called it ‘Byron’s tomb;’ and here, they say, he used to sit for hours, wrapt up in thought—brooding lonely over the bright forethoughts of fame, under the influence of which, when little more than fifteen years of age, he wrote these remarkable lines:
“My epitaph shall be my name alone.
If that with honour fail to crown my clay,
Oh may no other fame my deeds repay!
That only, that, shall single out the spot,
By that remember’d, or with that forgot.’”

During the Harrow vacation of the year 1803, Byron resided with his mother, in lodgings at Nottingham—Newstead being at that time let to Lord Grey de Ruthven. He was then in his sixteenth year—“a soul made of fire,” and one of the “children of the sun.” In his eighth year he had loved Mary Duff—in his fourteenth, Mary Parker—and now he delivered himself up to a passion—boyish no more—but boiling in virile blood—in his heart’s life-blood, which all his life-long would rush up to his face and back again to its agitated source—at the “magic of a name”—the name of Mary Anne Chaworth.

“To the family of Miss Chaworth, who resided at Annesly, in the immediate neighbourhood of Newstead, he had been made known some time before, in London, and now renewed his acquaintance with them. The young heiress herself combined, with many worldly advantages that encircled her, much personal beauty, and a disposition the most amiable and attaching. Though already fully alive to her charms, it was at that period of which we are speaking, that the young poet, who was then in his sixteenth year, while the object of his adoration was about two years older, seems to have drunk deepest of that fascination whose effects were to be so lasting;—six short summer weeks which he now passed in her company being sufficient to lay the foundation of a feeling for all his life. He used, at first, though offered a bed at Annesly, to return every night to Newstead, to sleep; alleging as a reason, that he was afraid of the family pictures of the Chaworths,—that he fancied ‘they had taken a grudge to him on account of
Moore’s Byron403
the duel, and would come down from their frames at night to haunt him.’ At length, one evening, he said gravely to Miss Chaworth and her cousin, ‘in going home last night I saw a bogle,’ which Scotch term being wholly unintelligible to the young ladies, he explained that he had seen a ghost, and would not therefore return to Newstead that evening. From this time he always slept at Annesly during the remainder of his visit, which was interrupted only by a short excursion to Matlock and Castleton, in which he had the happiness, of accompanying Miss Chaworth and her party; and of which the following interesting notice appears in one of his memorandum books: ‘When I was fifteen years of age, it happened that, in a cavern in Derbyshire, I had to cross in a boat (in which two people only could lie down) a stream which flows under a rock, with the rock so close upon the water as to admit the boat only to be pushed on by a ferryman, (a sort of Charon,) who wades at the stern, stooping all the time. The companion of my transit was M. A. C., with whom I have been long in love and never told it, though she had discovered it without. I recollect my sensations, but cannot describe them,—and it is as well. We were a party,—a Mr W., two Miss W.’s, Mr and Mrs Cl—ke, Miss R., and my M. A. C. Alas! why do I say my? Our union would have healed feuds in which blood had been shed by our fathers, it would have joined lands broad and rich, it would have joined at least one heart in two persons, not ill matched in years, (she is two years my elder,) and—and—and—what has been the result?’”

This passion sunk so deep into his mind as to give a colour to all his future life. That unsuccessful loves are generally the most lasting, “is a truth, however sad, which unluckily,” says Mr Moore, “did not require this instance to confirm it.” Neither this nor a thousand other instances—begging Mr Moore’s pardon—can confirm the truth of any such senseless assertion. If unsuccessful, mean unrequited loves—which here they manifestly must do—then all observation and all experience shew that generally they are transient. It must be so. It is altogether unnatural to cling hopelessly—for ever and ever—to any passion—of love or hate. It must die. If it lived long intensely, it would kill the soul of the sufferer. If it live long languidly, then we must not call it lasting; for languor is one thing, and passion is another—and what right to the name of passion has a vague, aimless feeling, that now and then, to the touch of some accidental association, lifts its head up from sleep, and then lays it down again on the pillow of oblivion? But suppose we are wrong in this,—and that an unsuccessful passion may be lasting,—let Mr Moore shew the principle of its life. It will puzzle him to do so—and yet if any man may, he may, for he has a feeling and a faithful heart. But suppose he were to prove that unsuccessful passions are often lasting,—he must then proceed to prove farther, that they are generally more lasting than successful passions; a creed which no married man, especially one who, we are happy to know, is as happy as all the friends of genius and virtue could desire, may hold, or at least promulgate, without peril; and which, rather than try to swallow, we should prefer making the same attempt first on the Thirty-nine Articles. Our creed (but we are bachelors) is just the reverse of Mr Moore’s—that almost all unsuccessful passions are evanescent (Byron’s was not, but exceptio probat regulam)—and that all successful passions are lasting, except when one or both of the parties have been, to an undue and dangerous degree, knaves or fools—or both—in which cases successful passion lasts for a month at the most—a week—a day—or an hour—and then is gone for ever, like a flash of gunpowder.—Are there no happy marriages?

Mr Moore says, that the picture which Byron has drawn of his youthful love, in one of the most interesting of his poems, “The Dream,” shews how genius and feeling can elevate the realities of this life, and give to the commonest events and objects an undying lustre. The old hall at Annesly, under the name of the “antique oratory,” will long call up to fancy the “maiden and the youth,” who once stood in it; while the image of the “lover’s steed,” though suggested by the unromantic race-ground of Nottingham, will not the less conduce to the general effect of the scene, and share a portion of that light which only genius could shed over it!

That is beautifully expressed, and the sentiment is true to nature. But
404Moore’s Byron
we cannot think it peculiarly applicable to the “
Dream.” The old hall at Annesly is not a common object in itself, and still less so is “the antique oratory.” “A maiden and a youth,” are doubtless common objects—but have not such common objects many millions of times been the themes—are they not the only themes, of all most impassioned song? And why so eloquent on such an achievement as this—as if it were singular—and to be accomplished only by the muse of a Byron? Commonest events and objects indeed! Are not all human passions, and all human incidents, of this character? Is death uncommon? Must genius be eulogized, because it can shed an “undying lustre” over Love? As to the lover’s “steed”—no more poetical animal going than a horse? Had his Lordship been about to mount a mule, or take his departure on a donkey, it might have required all his genius to throw an undying lustre over “that object” and “that event.” The reader might have thought of Peter Bell. With regard to the race-ground of Nottingham,—as a portion of the earth’s surface, it is not unromantic, but quite the reverse; merely as a race-ground, it will be neither the better nor the worse of Byron’s ”Dream.” Let Mr Moore, next time he philosophizes on the power of poetical genius to shed undying lustre on “the commonest objects and events,” turn from Byron in all his glory—to Wordsworth in all his—and then he will be just to nature and to her chosen Bard.

Mr Moore continues,—“He appears already, at this boyish age, to have been so far a proficient in gallantry, as to know the use that may be made of the trophies of former triumphs in achieving new ones; for he used to boast, with much pride, to Miss Chaworth, of a locket which some fair favourite had given him, and which probably may have been a present from that pretty cousin, of whom he speaks with such warmth in one of the notices already quoted.”

This is indeed a sad falling off from the fine sentiment of the preceding paragraph; it is pitiably poor; like some of the worst bits of Thomas Little—and, oh! how unlike the best breathings of Thomas Moore!

In the month of October 1805, Byron, then in his eighteenth year, was removed to Trinity College, Cambridge. So much had he disliked leaving Harrow, “that I broke my very rest for the last quarter with counting the days that remained. I always hated Harrow till the last year and half, but then I liked it. Secondly, I wished to go to Oxford, and not to Cambridge. Thirdly, I was so completely alone in this new world, that it half broke my spirits. My companions were not unsocial, but the contrary—lively, hospitable, of rank and fortune, and gay, far beyond my gaiety. I mingled with them, and dined, and supped, &c. with them; but I know not how, it was one of the deadliest and heaviest feelings of my life, to feel that I was no longer a boy!” But at Cambridge, as at Harrow, he soon formed the most passionate friendships—one with a mild musical character, of the name of Eddlestone, who afterwards entered into a mercantile house, and died early of consumption—and another more equal, and therefore more natural and rational, with Edward Noel Long, (afterwards of the Guards, and in 1809 drowned, in a transport, on his passage to Lisbon with his regiment.)

“We were rival swimmers,—fond of riding, reading, and of conviviality. We had been at Harrow together; but—there, at least—his was a less boisterous spirit than mine. I was always cricketing, rebelling, fighting, rowing, (from row, not boat-rowing, a different practice,) and in all manner of mischiefs; while he was more sedate and polished. At Cambridge—both of Trinity—my spirit rather softened, or his roughened; for we became very great friends. The description of Sabrina’s seat, reminds me of our rival feats in diving. Though Cam’s is not a very ‘translucent wave,’ it was fourteen feet deep, where we used to dive for, and pick up—having thrown them in on purpose—plates, eggs, and even shillings. I remember, in particular, there was the stump of a tree (at least ten or twelve feet deep) in the bed of the river, in a spot where we bathed most commonly, round which I used to cling, and ‘wonder how the devil I came there.’”

For the fourth time,too,he fell luckily in love—“a violent though pure passion”—but he has not added the name of his fair favourite (so Mr
Moore’s Byron405
Moore would call her) to those of Mary Duff, Mary Parker, and Mary Chaworth. Twelve years after Long’s death, an English gentleman, (Mr Walker,) who called upon Byron at one of his residences in Italy, having happened to mention, in conversation, that he had been acquainted with Long, Byron from that moment treated him with the most marked kindness, and talked with him of Long, and of his amiable qualities, till, as this gentleman says, the tears could not be concealed in his eyes!

In the summer of 1806, he, as usual, joined his mother at Southwell, (where the deuce is Southwell?) where he had formed some intimacies and friendships, the memory of which is still cherished there fondly and proudly. There, he profited by the “bland influence of female society,” by seeing “what woman is in the true sphere of her virtue—home.” The amiable and intelligent family of the Pigots received him within their circle,—the son, now Dr Pigot, and a distinguished man in his profession, being one of his dearest friends, and in the Rev. John Becher, (a gentleman, who has since honourably distinguished himself by his philosophic plans and suggestions for that most important object, the amelioration of the condition of the poor,) the youthful Poet found not only an acute and judicious critic, but a sincere friend. There his mother seems to have been more than usually boisterous.

“To the boisterousness of his mother, he would oppose a civil, and, no doubt, provoking silence, bowing to her but the more profoundly, the higher her voice rose in the scale. In general, however, when he perceived that a storm was at hand, in flight lay his only safe resource. To this summary expedient he was driven, at the period of which we are speaking; but not till after a scene bad taken place between him and Mrs Byron, in which the violence of her temper had proceeded to lengths, that however outrageous they may be deemed, were not, it appears, unusual with her. The poet Young, in describing a temper of this sort, says,—
‘The cups and saucers in a whirlwind sent,
Just intimate the lady’s discontent.’
But poker and tongs were, it seems, the missiles which Mrs Byron preferred, and which she, more than once, sent resounding after her fugitive son. In the present instance, he was but just in time to avoid a blow aimed at him with the former of these weapons, and to make a hasty escape to the house of a friend in the neighbourhood, where, concerting the best means of baffling pursuit, he decided upon an instant flight to London.”

Safe in No. 16, Piccadilly, Byron ventured to write to young Pigot about Alecto.

My Dear Pigot,

“Many thanks for your amusing narrative of the last proceedings of my amiable Alecto, who now begins to feel the effects of her folly. I have just received a penetential epistle, to which, apprehensive of pursuit, I have dispatched a moderate answer, with a kind of promise to return in a fortnight; this, however, (entre nous,) I never mean to fulfil. Her soft warblings must have delighted her auditors; her higher notes being particularly musical, and in a calm moonlight evening would be heard to great advantage. Had I been present as a spectator, nothing would have pleased me more; but to have come forward as one of the ‘dramatis personæ’—St Dominic defend me from such a scene! Seriously, your mother has laid me under great obligations; and you, with the rest of the family, merit my warmest thanks for your kind connivance at my escape from Mrs Byron’s furiosæ.

“Oh for the pen of Ariosto to rehearse, in epic, the scolding of that momentous eve,—or rather, let me invoke the shade of Dante to inspire me, for none but the author of the ‘Inferno’ could properly preside over such an attempt. But, perhaps, where the pen might fail, the pencil would succeed. What a group! Mrs B. the principal figure; you, cramming your ears with cotton, as the only antidote to total deafness; Mrs —— in vain endeavouring to mitigate the wrath of the lioness robbed of her whelp; and last, though not least, Elizabeth and Wousky,—wonderful to relate!—both deprived of their parts of speech, and bringing up the rear in mute astonishment.”

This letter was written the 9th of August, on the 10th he thus writes to Miss Pigot:—

My Dear Bridget,

“As I have already troubled your brother with more than he will find pleasure in deciphering, you are the next to whom I shall assign the difficult employment of perusing this second epistle. You will perceive from my first, that no idea of Mrs B.’s arrival had disturbed me at the
406Moore’s Byron
time it was written; not so the present, since the appearance of a note from the illustrious cause of my sudden decampment has driven the natural ruby from my cheeks, and completely blanched my woebegone countenance. This gunpowder intimation of her arrival (confound her activity!) breathes less of terror and dismay than you will probably imagine, from the volcanic temperament of her ladyship, and concludes with the comfortable assurance of all present motion being prevented by the fatigue of her journey, for which my blessings are due to the rough roads and restive quadrupeds of his Majesty’s highways. As I have not the smallest inclination to be chased round the country, I shall e’en make a merit of necessity, and since, like Macbeth, ‘They’ve tied me to the stake, I cannot fly,’ I shall imitate that valorous tyrant, and ‘bear-like fight the course,’ all escape being precluded.”

And on the 16th, he again writes to Mr Pigot, junior, on the same subject.

“I cannot exactly say with Cæsar, ‘Veni, vidi, vici;’ however, the most important part of his laconic account of his success applies to my present situation; for, though Mrs Byron took the trouble of ‘coming’ and ‘seeing,’ yet your humble servant proved the victor. After an obstinate engagement of some hours, in which we suffered considerable damage from the quickness of the enemy’s fire, they at length retired in confusion, leaving behind the artillery, field equipage, and some prisoners; their defeat is decisive of the present campaign. To speak more intelligibly, Mrs B. returns immediately, but I proceed, with all my laurels, to Worthing on the Sussex coast; to which you will address (to be left at the post-office) your next epistle.”

Mrs Byron returned to Southwell; and in a letter of Byron’s to young Pigot, dated the 18th, he says, alluding to the non-appearance of “that idle scoundrel, Charles, with my horses, that on no pretence is he to postpone his march one day longer, and if, in obedience to the caprices of Mrs B., (who I perceive is again spreading desolation through her little monarchy,) he thinks proper to disregard my positive orders, I shall not in future consider him as my servant.” He had indeed for a mother the devil’s dam. What must a young man—who had been four times in love—had licked half Harrow, and was then a nobleman at Trinity College, Cambridge, as poker and tongs came whizzing past his ear, discharged, from his mother’s fist as from a balista or catapulta, have thought of—things in general?

Byron at this time was engaged in preparing a collection of his Poems for the press. It does not appear from Mr Moore’s narrative when they were written; but the idea of printing them first occurred to him in the parlour of the Pigots’ Cottage, which had become his adopted home. Miss Pigot, who was not aware of his turn for versifying, had been reading aloud the poems of Burns, when Byron exclaimed that he too sometimes was a poet, and repeated, “When in the hall my father’s voice!” so remarkable for the anticipations of his future fame that glimmer through them. From this moment, the desire of appearing in print took entire possession of him; to the exclusion of his everlasting unsuccessful passion for Miss Chaworth, now Mrs Musters—and of the object of his “pure but violent passion” at Cambridge. Verses sufficient for a small volume were rapidly poured forth, and Byron’s first work, intended for private circulation, was sent to press by Mr Ridge, bookseller at Newark. Meanwhile, theatricals were the rage in Southwell, where Byron was passing part of the long vacation, and he enacted Penruddock in the Wheel of Fortune, and Tristram Fickle, in Allingham’s farce of the Weathercock, for three nights with great applause. “It may perhaps,” says Mr Moore, “not be altogether trifling to observe, that in thus personating with such success two heroes so different, the young poet displayed both that love and power of versatility by which he was afterwards impelled, on a grander scale, to present himself under such opposite aspects to the world; the gloom of Penruddock, and the whim of Tristram being types, as it were, of the two extremes between which his own character, in after life, so singularly vibrated.”

As soon as his volume of Poems came from the press, he presented a copy to his affectionate and judicious friend, Mr Becher, who, while he saw many to admire, and some almost too boyish to criticise, found one poem which he could not but greatly condemn, as in it the imagination of the
Moore’s Byron407
young bard had indulged itself in a luxuriousness of colouring, beyond what even youth could excuse. A word from such a friend so respected, was enough,—and, with the exception of two copies,
Byron caused a cancel of the whole impression. Mr Moore well adds, that the sensibility, the temper,the ingenuous pliableness, which this trait exhibits, shews a disposition capable, by nature, of every thing we most respect and love. In about six weeks, a new edition, without the offensive “To Mary,” was printed; and it appears, that the volume received commendations, with which Byron was much elated, from Henry Mackenzie and Lord Woodhouselee. These gentle breezes from the North, were soon to be succeeded by a storm. The fame he had now reaped within a limited circle, made him but more eager to try his chance on a wider field. One hundred copies, of which this edition consisted, were hardly out of his hands, when with fresh activity, he went to press again; and his first published volume made its appearance, “The Hours of Idleness.”

After this period, his visits to Southwell were few and transient. There he seems to have been very happy. At first, he was remarkably shy; but that reserve wore off, as he became acquainted with the young people of the place; and he became a frequenter of the assemblies and dinner parties, and even felt mortified, if he heard of a rout to which he was not invited. His horror, however, at new faces, still continued; and at the approach of strangers, he would jump out of the window. The gentry of the neighbourhood ho avoided, chiefly, we should suppose, because he believed they must be stupid, and partly, from the consciousness of the inadequacy of his own means to his rank. In his hours of rising and retiring to rest, he was—like most other distinguished persons—always late; and this habit he had the wisdom never to alter, during the remainder of his life. The night, too, was at this period, as it continued to be, his favourite time for composition.

He was fond of music of a simple kind, such as, “The Maid of Lodi,” and, “When time, who steals away,” &c.,—and those exercises to which he flew for distraction, in less happy days, formed his enjoyment now, such as, riding, swimming, cricketing, sparring, and firing at a mark. In riding, he was by no means expert, either then, or afterwards,—and was so ignorant of horses, that he did not know his own, when he saw them, but admired them, and expressed a desire to make a purchase of his own stud. That he could never have been a good equestrian, was proved at a later period of his life, in Italy, by his remarking, “Why, Hunt, you ride well?” He was an admirable diver; and a lady in Southwell, among other precious relics of him, possesses a thimble which he borrowed of her one morning when on his way to bathe in the Greet, and which, as was certified by her brother who accompanied him, he brought up three times successively from the bottom of the river. How deep it was the deponent sayeth not. On one occasion he had nearly shot a very beautiful young person, Miss H——, one of that numerous list of fair ones by whom his imagination was dazzled while at Southwell—the bullet hissing past her ear. Such a passion had he for arms of every description, that there generally lay a small sword by the side of his bed, with which he used to amuse himself as he lay awake in the morning, by thrusting it through the bed-hangings. His fondness for dogs was excessive—and his noble Newfoundlander, Boatswain, seems to have been worthy of Byron. He shewed symptoms of a superstitious complexion of thought—as all men of great feeling and imagination perhaps have done, and which was not to be wondered at in him, as his mother, who had great influence over his earliest years, had implicit belief in the wonders of the second-sight. At so late a period as the death of Shelley, the idea of fetches and forewarnings, impressed upon him by his mother, had not wholly lost possession of the Poet’s mind; and there occurred now at Southwell an instance of a more playful sort of superstition. A lady had a large agate bead, with a wire through it, which had been taken out of a barrow, and lay always in her work-box. Byron asking one day what it was, she told him that it had been given her as an amulet,
408Moore’s Byron
and the charm was, that as long as she had this head in her possession, she should never be in love. “Then give it to me,” he cried eagerly, “for that’s just the thing I want.” The young lady refused; but it was not long before the bead disappeared. She taxed him with the theft, and he owned it; but said she never should see her amulet again.

“Of his charity and kind-heartedness he left behind him at Southwell—as indeed at every place, throughout life, where he resided any time—the most cordial recollections. ‘He never,’ says a person who knew him intimately at this period, ‘met objects of distress, without affording them succour.’ Among many little traits of this nature which his friends delight to tell, I select the following—less as a proof of his generosity, than the interest which the simple incident itself, as connected with the name of Byron, presents. While yet a schoolboy, he happened to be in a bookseller’s shop at Southwell, when a poor woman came in to purchase a Bible. The price, she was told, by the shopman, was eight shillings. ‘Ah, dear sir,’ she exclaimed, ‘I cannot pay such a price—I did not think it would cost half the money.’ The woman was then, with a look of disappointment, going away, when young Byron called her back, and made her a present of the Bible.”

The Hours of Idleness” once afloat, it may well be supposed that Byron watched with no little anxiety the progress of its voyage. “Write and tell me,” he says, in a letter written to Miss —— in June, “how the inhabitants of your menagerie go on, and if my publication goes off well—do the quadrupeds growl? Apropos, our sick dog is deceased.” And in another letter—“Has Ridge sold well? or do the ancients demur? What ladies have bought?” Some weeks after he says, “What the deuce would Ridge have? Is not fifty in a fortnight, before the advertisements, a sufficient sale? I hear that many of the London booksellers have them, and Crosby has sent copies to the different watering places. Are they liked or not in Southwell?” “Lord Carlisle, on receiving my Poems, sent, before he opened the book, a tolerably handsome letter. I have not heard from him since. His opinions I neither know nor care about. If he is the least insolent, I shall enrol him with Butler and the other worthies. He is in Yorkshire, poor man, and very ill. He said he had not time to read the contents; but thought it necessary to acknowledge the receipt of the volume immediately. Perhaps the Earl bears no brother near the throne; if so, I will make the sceptre totter in his hands.” August. “Ridge does not proceed rapidly in Notts. Very possible. In town things wear a more promising aspect, and a man whose works are praised by Reviewers, admired by Duchesses, and sold by every bookseller of the metropolis, does not dedicate much time to rustic readers.” “Crosby, my London publisher, has disposed of his second importation, and has sent to Ridge for a third—at least so he says. In every bookseller’s window I see my own name and say nothing; but enjoy fame in secret. My last reviewer kindly requests me to alter my determination of writing no more; and a friend to the cause of literature begs I will gratify the public with some new work at no very distant day. Who would not be a bard? However, the others will pay me off, I doubt not,for this gentle encouragement. If so, have at ’em.” “Ridge goes on well with the work. I thought that worthy had not done much in the country. In town they have been very successful; Carpenter (Moore’s publisher) told me a few days ago they sold all theirs immediately, and had several enquiries made since, which, from the book being gone, they could not supply. The Duke of York, the Marchioness of Headfort, the Duchess of Gordon, were among the purchasers; and Crosby says the circulation will be more extensive in the winter.” October. “Apropos. I have been praised to the skies in the Critical Review—and abused greatly in another publication (The Satyrist); so much the better, they tell me, for the sale of the book; it keeps up controversy, and prevents its being forgotten. Besides, the first men of all ages have had their share, nor do the humblest escape—so I bear it like a philosopher.” “My laurels have turned my brain, but the cooling acids of forthcoming criticism will probably restore me to modesty.”

Things thus went on swimmingly till early in the spring of 1808, when Byron heard it rumoured that a cool
Moore’s Byron409
ing acid was about to be administered to him in the shape of an aperient-paper in the
Edinburgh Review. Feb. 26, 1808. “I am of so much importance, that a most violent attack is preparing for me in the next number or the Edinburgh Review. This I had from the authority of a friend who has seen the proof and the manuscript of the critique, (a damned good-natured friend, no doubt.) You know the system of the Edinburgh gentlemen is universal attack. They praise none—and neither the public nor the author expects praise from them. It is, however, something to be noticed, as they profess to pass judgment only on works requiring the public attention.” The dose was duly administered—but instead of cooling the system, it blew up all his heart’s blood into a fever. Reading it now, one cannot help seeing that the critique must have been written either by a naturally and habitually despicable dunce, or by some person whom private pique (the more likely supposition perhaps) had reduced to that condition. Its sneers and sarcasms are all about Byron’s being a lord and a minor—as if it had drivelled from the pen of an old impotent radical. But the jackass had, somehow or other, got himself admitted into Mr Jeffrey’s stud; while the horses neighed, the donkey brayed, without suspecting the difference of voice natural to those two kinds of quadrupeds; and though hidebound, and greasy in the fetlocks, it even attempted kicking up its heels, like a stalled courser let loose into a spring meadow. Were any critical cuddy to make such an exhibition of himself now, he would forthwith be sold to the dogs for carrion. But then the Edinburgh Review was omnipotent—it rode over the neck of the Reading Public, who flung herself down in a fright, poor old lady, before the wheels of Mr Jeffrey’s triumphal car, without seeing that in the team which that accomplished whip bowled along the royal road of literature—eight-in-hand—there were—although the leaders shewed both blood and bone,—some very poor cattle,—one mule at the least; and as a wheeler, this enormous ass, who never doubted for a moment that he was by his own sole exertions drawing the whole concern. Byron was subject, he has told us, to “silent rages;” but that seems merely to have been with his nurse or his mother, or other old women who plagued his childhood. At such times his face was wont to pale. But now he spoke out, and his face reddened, and he drank goblets of mighty wine, at every gulp vowing vengeance and retribution. The Reviewer had got the wrong sow by the ear—or rather the sow was a lion, who, with one “couch-paw,” flabbergasted him to the earth. How the Malignant must have shouted, and chuckled, and crowed, among his yet uncowed compeers, like a great big long-legged, huge-comb-and-wattled Malay bantam, larger than a chanticleer himself of the old English breed, game to the back-bone, and never to be taken from the sod, but victorious or dead! But Byron pounced upon him like an eagle, and drove all his talons through his rump. The craven never crowed again; but thence walked mute from dunghill to dunghill, with his feathers on-end at the back of his head, buffeted by hens who had too much of the spirit of gallantry about them, to admit the advances of a manifest and notorious Fugie.

Mr Moore speaks rather gingerly of the base and brutal abuse in the said disgusting article—calling it an “article, which if not witty in itself, deserves eminently the credit of causing wit in others. Seldom,” says he, “indeed, has it fallen to the lot of the justest criticism to attain celebrity such as injustice has procured for this; nor, as long as the short but glorious race or Byron’s genius is remembered, can the critic, whoever he may be, that so ambitiously administered to its first start, be forgotten.” All that is mighty well; but methinks somewhat too “melancholy and gentlemanlike.” For the animus of the article was infamous. We do not so much object to the critic’s feeble taste as to his false heart—but the bark of such a cur was worse than his bite—the sting of such an adder was not mortal, because it had too often on other objects spent its venom. Was it the same Abject who tried to assassinate Montgomery and Coleridge? “Forgotten indeed!” How can the world forget what it never knew? Let Mr Moore—if he
410Moore’s Byron
knows it—name the creature, and let him have justice. Or let the slave avow himself! And from all the world he will hear “one dismal universal hiss,” the sound of public scorn—intelligible to the now old and toothless serpent.

It is but justice, however, to remark,” continues Mr Moore, after his very milk-and-water reprehension of the injustice of that insulting critique—“without at the same time intending any excuse for the contemptuous tone of criticism assumed by the reviewer, that the early verses of Lord Byron, however distinguished by grace and tenderness, gave but little promise of those dazzling miracles or poetry, with which he afterwards astonished and enchanted the world; and that if his youthful verses now have a peculiar charm in our eyes, it is because we read them, as it were, by the light of his subsequent glory.” Beautifully expressed—and towards the close finely felt too—as almost every thought is in this noble volume. But why so anxious to do such justice to a literary felon? Why not rather untie than tie the noose? Why loosen it—except, indeed—which was not Mr Moore’s motive—to protract the agony of strangulation? “Contemptuous tone of criticism!” That is softening down—aye, slobbering over the crime. If Byron’s verses were “distinguished for grace and elegance,” what means Mr Moore’s “It is but justice to remark?’ Nothing—or rather worse than nothing; a latent, yet obvious inclination to let down softly a contributor to the “Blue and Yellow.” But ’tis of no use. He has already fallen, and broken his bones, and skilful a surgeon as Moore is, it is beyond his power to set them so as to prevent the legs from forming a figure not to be found in Euclid. “Gave but little promise of the dazzling miracles with which he afterwards astonished and enchanted the world!” True. How was that possible? Miracles are seldom wrought in boyhood. There has been but one Chatterton. Wonder-producers in youth generally become in manhood effete even of common births. This remark of Mr Moore is altogether sophistical. The blockhead abused the youthful aspirant;—Byron was said to be entirely trashy—a mere worthless weed; while he was a manifest flower, and, none of your forced exotics—but native to the soil, strong-stalked, and with green leaves gracefully serrated—nor without the honey-dew of Hybla, had it been a bee, and not a wasp, that sought the opening petals. True, as Mr Moore has so beautifully said, that we do read Byron’s juvenile “poems by the light of his subsequent glory;” but we do so with the juvenile poems of almost all great bards—after they have been great; and therefore, however true the thought, “it is but justice to remark” that it affords no justification of the original sinner.

But we are put into the most thorough sympathy with Mr Moore, by the following delightful remarks on these very poems:—

“There is, indeed, one point of view in which these productions are deeply and intrinsically interesting. As faithful reflections of his character at that period of life, they enable us to judge of what he was in his yet unadulterated state,—before disappointment had begun to embitter his ardent spirits, or the stirring up of the energies of his nature had brought into activity all its defects. Tracing him thus through the natural effusion of his young genius, we find him pictured exactly such in all the features of his character, as every anecdote of his boyish days proves him really to have been,—proud, daring, and passionate,—resentful of slight or injustice, but still more so in the cause of others than in his own; and yet with all his vehemence, docile and placable, at the least touch of a hand authorized by love to guide him. The affectionateness, indeed, of his disposition, traceable as it is through every page of this volume, is yet but faintly done justice to, even by himself;—his whole youth being, from earliest childhood, a series of the most passionate attachments,—of those overflowings of the soul, both in friendship and love, which are still more rarely responded to than felt, and which, when checked or sent back upon the heart, are sure to turn into bitterness.

“We have seen also, in some of his early unpublished poems, how apparent, even through the doubts that already clouded them, ore those feelings of piety which a soul like his could not but possess, and which, when afterwards directed out of their legitimate channel, found a vent in the poetical worship of nature, and in that shadowy substitute for religion which superstition offers. When, in addition, too, to these traits of early character, we find
Moore’s Byron411
scattered through his youthful poems such anticipations of the glory that awaited him—such, alternately, proud and saddened glimpses into the future, as if he already felt the elements of something great within him, but doubted whether his destiny would allow him to bring it forth,—it is not wonderful that, with the whole of his career present to our imagination, we should see a lustre round those first puerile attempts, not really their own, but shed back upon them from the bright eminence which he afterwards attained; and that, in our indignation against the fastidious blindness of the
critic, we should forget that he had not then the aid of this reflected charm, with which the subsequent achievements of the poet now indicate all that bears his name.”

That is admirable,—all but the last sentence, in which we see the hand of a man of finest feelings and genius trying in vain to wash the greasy face of a stupid slanderer, more hopelessly black than an Ethiop’s skin. But hear Mr Moore again.

“The effect this criticism produced upon him can only be conceived by those, who, besides having an adequate notion of what most poets would feel under such an attack, can understand all that there was in the temper and disposition of Lord Byron, to make him feel it with tenfold more acuteness than others. We have seen with what feverish anxiety he awaited the verdict of all the minor Reviews; and, from his sensibility to the praise of the meanest of these censors, may guess how painfully he must have writhed under the sneers of the highest. A friend, who found him in the first moments of excitement after reading the article, enquired anxiously, whether he had just received a challenge?—not knowing how else to account for the fierce defiance of his looks. It would, indeed, be difficult for sculptor or painter to imagine a subject of more fearful beauty than the fine countenance of the young poet must have exhibited in the collected energy of that crisis. His pride had been wounded to the quick, and his ambition humbled:—but this feeling of humiliation lasted but for a moment. The very reaction of his spirit against aggression, roused him to a full consciousness of his own powers; and the pain and the shame of the injury were forgotten, in the proud certainty of revenge.

“Among the less sentimental effects of this Review upon his mind, he used to mention that, on the day he read it, he drank three bottles of claret to his own share after dinner;—that nothing, however, relieved him till he had given vent to his indignation in rhyme, and that, ‘after the first twenty lines, he felt himself considerably better.’”

“The misanthropic mood of mind into which he had fallen at this time, from disappointed affections and thwarted hopes, made the office of satirist but too congenial and welcome to his spirit. Yet it is evident, that this bitterness existed far more in his fancy than in his heart; and that the sort of relief be now found in making war upon the world, arose much less from the indiscriminate wounds he dealt around, than from the new sense of power he became conscious of in dealing them, and by which he more than recovered his former station in his own esteem. In truth, the versatility and ease with which, as shall presently be shewn, he could, on the briefest consideration, shift from praise to censure, and sometimes, almost as rapidly, from censure to praise, shews how fanciful and transient were the impressions under which he, in many instances, pronounced his judgments; and, though it may in some degree deduct from the weight of his eulogy, absolves him also from any great depth of malice in his satire.”

The sort of life which Byron led at this period, between the dissipations of London and Cambridge, without a home to welcome, or even the roof of a single relative to receive him, (to Southwell and his excellent kind friends there, he had bidden an eternal farewell,) was, says Mr Moore, little calculated to render him satisfied either with himself or others. Byron himself says,—

“I took my gradations in the vices with great promptitude, but they were not to my taste; for my early passions, though violent in the extreme, were concentrated, and hated division or spreading abroad. I could have left or lost the whole world with, or for, that which I loved; but, though my temperament was naturally burning, I could not share in the commonplace libertinism of the place and time without disgust. And yet this very disgust, and my heart thrown back upon itself, threw me into excesses perhaps more fatal than those from which I shrunk, as fixing upon one (at a time) the passions, which, spread amongst many, would have hurt only myself.”

Though from the causes here alleged, the irregularities Byron at this period gave way to, were of a nature far less gross and miscellaneous, than
412Moore’s Byron
those perhaps of any of his associates, yet
Mr Moore well says, partly from the vehemence which this concentration caused, and still more from that strange pride in his own errors, which led him always to bring them forth in the most conspicuous light, one single indiscretion in his hands, was made to go farther than a thousand in those of others.

The only bald part of this Biography is that which relates to Byron’s College life; nor can we approve of its spirit. Mr Moore is too well acquainted with literary history, to fall into any blunders of commission,—but he has fallen,—not perhaps unpurposed, into not a few of omission,—and strives, most ineffectually, to make us believe, that because Byron did no good at Cambridge, no other young poet of a high order could do any,—and that the Genius Loci is adverse to all inspiration. On that ground, we may meet him another day.

In the Autumn of this year—1808—Byron, for the first time, took up his residence at Newstead-Abbey. From his first arrival in England, so attached was he to Newstead, that even to be in its neighbourhood was a delight to him; and before he came acquainted with Lord Grey de Ruthven, to whom it was let during Mrs Byron’s abode in Nottingham, he used sometimes to sleep, for a night, at the small house, near the gate, which is still known by the name of the Hut. He had there planted a young oak in some part of the grounds, and had an idea that as it flourished, so should he! He now found the place in a most ruinous condition,—and on revisiting that particular spot, found his oak choked up by weeds, and almost deserted,—fit subject for an elegy, of which we have some fine lines. Here his mother threatened a visit—and he did not forbid it; on the contrary, he says in his answer to her letter, “If you please, we will forget the things you mention. I have no desire to remember them. When my rooms are finished I shall be happy to see you; as I tell but the truth, you will not suspect me of evasion. I am furnishing the house more for you than myself; and I shall establish you in it before I sail for India, which I expect to do in March, if nothing particularly obstructive occurs.” In the end of this year he lost his favourite dog Boatswain—the poor animal having been seized with a tit of madness, at the commencement of which Byron was so little aware of the nature of the malady, that he more than once with his bare hand wiped away the slaver from the dog’s lips during the paroxysms. In a letter to his friend Mr Hodgson, (author of a spirited translation of Juvenal, and other works of distinguished merit,) he thus announces this event: “Boatswain is dead—he expired in a state of madness on the 18th, after suffering much, yet retaining all the gentleness of his nature to the last, never attempting to do the least injury to any one near him. I have now lost every thing but old Murray.” To old Murray, when standing behind his chair at dinner, he used frequently to fill out a bumper of Madeira, and, handing it over his shoulder, say, with a benignant smile, “Here, my old fellow!”

His time at Newstead during this autumn was principally occupied in enlarging and preparing his Satire for the press. Considerable part of it, it appears, was written before the critique in the Edinburgh Review—but its plan must have been wholly changed, when it assumed the shape of “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.”

“It is somewhat remarkable, that excited as he was by the attack of the Reviewers, and possessing, at ail times, such rapid powers of composition, he should have allowed so long an interval to elapse between the aggression and the revenge. But the importance of his next move in literature seems to have been fully appreciated by him. He saw that his chances of future eminence now depended upon the effort he was about to make; and therefore deliberately collected all his energies for the spring. Among the preparatives by which he disciplined his talent to the task, was a deep study of the writings of Pope; and I have no doubt, that from this period may be dated the enthusiastic admiration which he ever after cherished for this great poet;—an admiration which at last extinguished in him, after one or two trials, all hope of pre-eminence in the same track, tend drove him thenceforth to seek renown in fields more open to competition.”

The Satire was published in March
Moore’s Byron413
1809—so that about a year elapsed between the “aggression and the revenge.” It was not long in creating a considerable sensation—and was soon attributed to
Byron. Gifford praised it—and Gifford himself was esteemed—God wot—a great satirist. Of its merits Mr Moore speaks with great candour and discrimination.

“Great as was the advance which his powers had made, under the influence of that resentment from which he now drew his inspiration, they were yet, even in his satire, at an immeasurable distance from the point to which they afterwards so triumphantly rose. It is, indeed, remarkable, that, essentially as his genius seemed connected with, and, us it were, springing out of his character, the developement of the one should so long have preceded the full maturity of the resources of the other. By her very early and rapid expansion of his sensibilities, nature had given him notice of what she destined him for, long before he understood the call; and those materials of poetry with which his own fervid temperament abounded, were but by slow degrees, and after much self-meditation, revealed to him. In his satire, though rigorous, there is but little foretaste of the wonders that followed it. His spirit was stirred, but he had not yet looked down into its depth, nor does even his bitterness taste of the bottom of the heart, like those sarcasms which he afterwards flung in the face of mankind. Still had the other countless feelings and passions, with which his soul had been long labouring, found an organ worthy of them;—the gloom, the grandeur, the tenderness of his nature, all were left without a voice, till his mighty genius at last awakened in its strength.

“In stooping, as he did, to write after established models, as well in the satire as in his still earlier poems, he shewed how little he had yet explored his own original resources, or found out those distinctive marks by which he was known through all time. But, bold and energetic as was his general character, he was, in a remarkable degree, diffident in his intellectual powers. The consciousness of what he could achieve, was but by degrees forced upon him; and the discovery of so rich a mine of genius in his soul, came with no less surprise on himself than on the world. It was from the same slowness of self-appreciation, that, afterwards, in the full flow of his fame, he long doubted, as we shall see, his own aptitude for works of wit and humour,—till the happy experience of ‘Beppo’ at once dissipated this distrust, and opened a new region of triumph to his versatile and boundless powers.

“But, however far short of himself his first writings must be considered, there is in his satire a liveliness of thought, and, still more, a vigour and courage, which, concurring with the justice of his cause and the sympathies of the public on his side, could not fail to attach instant celebrity to his name. Notwithstanding, too, the general boldness and recklessness of his tone, there were occasionally mingled with this defiance some allusions to his own fate and character, whose affecting earnestness seemed to answer for their truth, and which were of a nature strongly to awaken curiosity as well as interest.”

A few days previous to the publication of the Satire, Byron, who had just come of age, took his seat in the House of Lords. From an expression in a letter to Mrs Byron, “that he must do something in the House soon,” as well as from more definite intimations of the same intention to Mr Harness, it would appear that he had had serious thoughts of entering upon public life. He had an idea that he was an orator. On the day he took his seat, there were “none to do him reverence.” He was received in one of the antechambers by some of the officers in attendance, and by one of them conducted into the house, in which there were very few persons. Mr Dallas says, he wore a countenance in which mortification was mingled with, but subdued by, indignation.

“He passed the woolsack without looking round, and advanced to the table where the proper officer was attending to administer the oaths. When he had gone through them, the Chancellor quitted his seat, and went towards him with a smile, putting out his hand warmly to welcome him; find though I did not catch his words, I saw that he paid him some compliment. This was all thrown away upon Lord Byron, who made a stiff bow, and put the tips of his fingers into the Chancellor’s hand. * * * The Chancellor did not press a welcome so received, his seat; while Lord Byron carelessly seated himself for a few minutes on one of the empty benches to the left of the throne, usually occupied by the lords in opposition. When, on his joining me, I expressed what I had felt, he said, ‘If I had shaken hands heartily, he would set me down for one of his party—but I will have nothing to do with
414Moore’s Byron
any of them, on either side; I have taken my seat, and now I will go abroad.’”

Had he been connected with any distinguished political families, says Mr Moore, his love of eminence, seconded by such example and sympathy, would have impelled him, no doubt, to seek renown in the fields of party warfare, where it might have been his fate to afford a logical instance of that transmuting process by which, as Pope says, the corruption of a poet sometimes leads to the composition of a statesman.

The sudden success of his Satire soon brought him back to London. A new edition appeared, in which there was a Postscript that breathed defiance to all persons of “wit and honour about town.” He had declared his determination to quit England for a season; “but I am coming back again, and their vengeance will keep hot till my return. Those who know me can testify that my motives for leaving England are very different from fears, literary or personal. Those who do not, may one day be convinced. Since the publication of this thing, my name has not been concealed. I have been mostly in London, ready to answer for my transgressions, and in daily expectation of sundry cartels. But, alas! the ‘age of chivalry is over,’ or, in the vulgar tongue, ‘there is no spirit now-a-days.’” This Postscript Mr Dallas, “much to the credit of his discretion and taste,” quoth Mr Moore, “most earnestly entreated the poet to suppress. It is to be regretted that the adviser did not succeed in his efforts, as there runs a tone of bravado through this ill-judged effusion, which it is at all times painful to see a really brave man assume.” Poo—poo—all nonsense. Old Dallas would have shewn his “discretion and taste”—which here mean humdrumishness and humbug—much more conspicuously had he tried to prevent the publication of the Satire. Whereas the bit body was delighted out of his small wits to play the midwife, and assist that fine thumping boy into the world of letters. Why, is not the Satire, from beginning to end, one tissue of abuse and defiance? Byron runs a-muck, and it was not for an old woman like Dallas to attempt taking the knife out of his hands. The Post script is of a piece with the spirit of the head, to which it is a tail. The whole was “an ill-judged effusion;” but since Byron, had in that Satire purposely insulted so many people, a Postscript, reminding them that he was ready to fight one and all of them, was so completely in keeping with the character of the composition, that it serves but to shew that the same recklessness of spirit in which it had been written remained after its publication, and intensified by its success. Having himself been grossly insulted by one set of men, he somewhat illogically conceived that he might insult not only them, but every body else; anger and scorn are bad reasoners; but their bursts of triumph, especially after humiliation, are not bravadoes. Byron was no bravo—he was deficient in coolness, and cruelty, and cowardice; and the Postscript that offended “the discretion and taste” of dull Dallas, and is so lugubriously lamented by merry Moore, is a very proper pendant to such a poem as “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.” Byron had felt, no doubt, that the Edinburgh Review was thought by all “persons of honour and wit about town” to have done his business; he knew that many Shallows and Slenders had long been chuckling and grinning at him—a lord—a minor—and a poetaster. And surely it was not unnatural for such a man, when his hour of triumph came,—for the Satire, with all its outrageous absurdities, shewed formidable powers,—to insult his foes in prose, as well as in verse,—in a Postscript, as well as in the main body of the letter,—and to tell them to their eyes, that his pistol was as ready as his pen,—that he could fight, as well as write,—and that having taken his vengeance, they might take theirs, and challenge him to the duello. As there was always something manly about Byron’s boyhood, so was there always something boyish about his manhood. At this time, he was boy, youth, man, all in one. His conduct was young altogether,—and Mr Moore’s criticism smells of moderation and middle age,—as ours, perhaps, may of eld and dotage.

By the bye, Byron’s own notes upon his Satire—in 1816—written on a copy of it, now in possession of
Moore’s Byron415
Mr Murray, are not unamusing, if meant to be serious, which Mr Moore seems to think they are,—as the notes to the Spital Sermon. Thus, “This is not just” “All this bad, because personal.” What a discovery! Every thing that is not just in a satire is bad, and every thing that is personal! Then he ought, after copying some hundred lines, or so, to have thrown his Satire into the fire. For our own parts, we would pay a crown to see the face of a nobleman or gentleman, who all over the world enjoyed the reputation of a Great Satirist, abhorring injustice and personality as he did the devil and all his legions. Sir Thomas Moore? No. Mr Francis Jeffrey? No. Mr Christopher North? Eh? No. And what if we three were to sit down seriously to pencil-mark here and there a passage or two in our works, with “bad, because not just!”—“bad, because personal!” Alas! so great would seem our crimes, that the Fudge Family would be sent to Botany Bay with the Twopenny Post-Bag slung over Miss What-do-ye-call-her’s shoulders. The Blue and Yellow would die of the black jaundice, consequent on the green sickness; and Maga, torn from our paternal embraces,
“Doom’d the long realms of Sydney-cove to see,
The martyr of her crimes, but true to thee,”
So seriously shocked and so hideously horrified was Byron by a want of justice and veracity in his Satire towards
Rogers, Campbell, Southey, and Scott, some six years or thereabouts after its perpetration—“the tone and temper of it being such as I cannot approve”—that while jotting down his shock and his horror, he could not help bursting forth into such penitent and remorseful expressions as,
“Pretty Miss Jacqueline
Had a nose aquiline;
And would assert rude
Things of Miss Gertrude;
While Mr Marmion
Led a great army on,
Making Kehama look
Like a fierce Mameluke.”
’Twas but an “ebullition”—and not fit subject for notes of repentance—that self-same Satire. Let us have nothing like hypocrisy from such a man as Mr Moore, who is usually as sincere as shamrock;—so, instead of joining in with Byron at a long face attempted to be pulled over some obsolete abuse of his—the Childe’s—let him—if canting must be the order of the pretty-behaved day—as he loves truth and justice, and us, begin with pouring forth into the confidential bosom of the Public tear-floods of contrition for his own sins of the same kidney—the countless violations of “truth and justice,” of “taste and discretion” in his own satires,—exclaiming all the while, with a grave face, if that be in the power of clay—“Their tone and temper are such as I cannot approve!!” Why—the Public—all the while he was pretending to be weeping in her confidential bosom—the worthy wicked old Public—Heaven bless her—would be shaking her sides as convulsively as the knowing rogue himself pretending to palinode in his nurse’s arms—and were no vent afforded, she would die of a suppression of guffaw.

With regard again to the duello, we do not remember that any other gentlemen worth mentioning were so insulted by Byron in his satire, as to have been justified, or called on to call out his Lordship, but Mr Moore and Mr Jeffrey. Mr Moore, on Byron’s return from abroad in 1811, shewed symptoms of seeking such sort of satisfaction; and Byron would have kept his word, and given it as readily as it was sought, but fortunately the matter was made up in a way most honourable to them both—and they were brothers ever after. Mr Jeffrey, again, though grossly insulted, could not have called out Byron without first apologising to him for the abuse of his underling—that prefatory step would have been awkward, and therefore his hands were tied up. Mr Jeffrey some years afterwards, alluding to the Satire, said, that its personalities were disgraceful only to his Lordship; but that was not quite correct, for those personalities were retorts to other personalities just as insolent, and entirely unprovoked; and therefore the satire in the Edinburgh against Byron was more disgraceful to its writer, than the satire in the “English
416Moore’s Byron
Bards,” &c. against Mr Jeffrey was to his Lordship. Nor was Mr Jeffrey himself altogether free from disgrace; but he did the Bard noble amends in all his critiques, after the Childe’s genius had fairly burst forth; and therefore all is now as it should be—and out of the battle all parties have come with flying colours, except the
original sinner, who has made his escape, like a cur from a colley-shangy, when there come to be some severe biting—flying as if there had been a kettle to his tail, and the “kennel-born” had been terrified in his flight by the horrors of a double shadow.

While engaged in preparing his new edition for the press, Byron was also gaily dispensing the hospitalities of Newstead to a party of young college friends, whom, with the prospect of so long an absence from England, he had assembled round him at the Abbey, for a sort of festive farewell. He had fixed with his friend Mr Hobhouse that they should leave England early together in the following June. There is a letter from Charles Skinner Matthews, (a young man of extraordinary talents and acquirements, and indeed the Crack of Cambridge, who afterwards was miserably drowned in the Cam,) describing the life of the “Merry Monks of Newstead.”

“But if the place itself appear rather strange to you, the ways of the inhabitants will not appear much less so. Ascend, then, with me the hall steps, that I may introduce you to my lord and his visitants. But have a care how you proceed; be mindful to go there in broad daylight, and with your eyes about you. For, should you make any blunder,—should you go to the right of the hall steps, you are laid hold of by a bear; and, should you go to the left, your case is still worse, for you run full against a wolf! Nor, when you have attained the door, is your danger over; for the hall being decayed, and therefore standing in need of repair, a bevy of inmates are very probably banging at one end of it with their pistols, so that if you enter without giving loud notice of your approach, you have only escaped the wolf and the bear, to expire by the pistol shots of the merry monks of Newstead.

“Our party consisted of Lord Byron and four others; and was, now and then, increased by the presence of a neighbouring parson. As for our way of living, the order of the day was generally thus: —for breakfast we had no set hour, but each suited his own convenience,—every thing remaining on the table till the whole party had done; though had one wished to breakfast at the early hour of ten, one would have been rather lucky to find any of the servants up. Our average hour of rising was one. I, who generally got up between eleven and twelve, was always—even when an invalid—the first of the party,—and was esteemed a prodigy of early rising. It was frequently past two before the breakfast party broke up. Then, for the amusements of the morning, there was reading, fencing, single-stick, or shuttlecock, in the great room; practising with pistols in the hall; walking, riding, cricket, sailing on the lake, playing with the bear, or teazing the wolf. Between seven and eight we dined, and our evening lasted from that time till one, two, or three in the morning. The evening diversions may easily be conceived.

“I must not omit the custom of handing round, after dinner, on the removal of the cloth, a human skull, filled with Burgundy. After revelling on choice viands, and the finest wines of France, we adjourned to tea, where we amused ourselves with reading, or improving conversation,—each, according to his fancy,—and after sandwiches, &c. retired to rest.

“A set of monkish dresses, which had been provided, with all the proper apparatus of crosses, beads, tonsures, &c. often gave a variety to our appearance and to our pursuits.”

What could be more harmless than all this? It shews, says Mr Moore, that the notion caught up by many, from his own allusions, in Childe Harold, to irregularities and orgies, of which Newstead had been the scene, is, like most other imputations against him founded on his own testimony, greatly exaggerated. He describes the home of his poetical representative, as a “monastic dome, condemned to uses vile,” adding,
“Where Superstition once had made her den,
Now paphian girls were known to sing and smile.”
Dallas the Dull—whom Byron was perpetually quizzing—taking his five hundred pounds’ worth out of him in that way—talks of him as “satiated with pleasure, and disgusted with those companions who have no other resource, he had resolved on mastering his appetites; he broke up
Moore’s Byron417
his harams.” Contrast this picture of Newstead Abbey, by Dallas, and its “merry monks,” with that of
Matthews, and see how lies are brought into the world. Had the old gentleman gone down to Newstead, just to take a look at his lordship’s “harams,” how sad would have been his disappointment! Some small occasional intriguing might have been possibly got up for the Senior of “taste and discretion,” among the menials of the establishment, “the sub introductæ,” quoth Mr Moore, as they would have been called by the ancient monks of the Abbey. But for harams—in the plural—Byron was too poor for such expensive profligacy,—he could not afford such Oriental luxuries. The aged person was also far out of his reckoning, when he spoke of Byron’s companions at Newstead having “no other resource but pleasure;” for they were, one and all of them, men of great talents, acquirements, and accomplishments, and “though not averse to convivial indulgences, (what monks ever were?) were of talents and tastes too intellectual for more vulgar debauchery;”—and had the “aged moralist” been among them, would have carried him, when half, or whole seas over, up stairs to bed, and seen his night-capped head laid asleep with its cotton tassel depending over his left ear, with a careful tenderness, on which it would not have been easy to pronounce too eulogistic a panegyric.

Having broken up his imaginary harams,—no more Byron’s than Mr Dallas’s,—he conceived the romantic design (not very like the design of a heartless profligate!) of collecting together all the portraits of his school friends. He thus writes to his friend Harness.

“I am going abroad, if possible, in the spring, and before I depart, I am collecting the pictures of my most intimate school-fellows: I have already a few, and shall want yours, or my cabinet will be incomplete. I have employed one of the first miniature painters of the day to make them, of course at my own expense, as I never allow my acquaintance to incur the least expenditure to gratify a whim of mine. To mention this may seem indelicate; but when I tell you a friend of ours first refused to sit under the idea that he was to disburse on the occasion, you will see that it is necessary to state these preliminaries, to prevent the recurrence of any similar mistake. I shall see you in time, and will carry you to the limner. It will be a tax on your patience fur a week, but pray excuse it, as it is possible the resemblance may be the sole trace I shall be able to preserve of our past friendship and present acquaintance. Just now it seems foolish enough, but in a few years, when some of us are dead, and others are separated by inevitable circumstances, it will be a kind of satisfaction to retain in these images of the living the idea of our former selves, and to contemplate in the resemblance of the dead, all that remains of judgment, feeling, and a host of passions.”

Here we indeed see—as Mr Moore has affectingly said—the natural working of an ardent and disappointed heart, which, as the future began to darken upon it, clung with fondness to the recollection of the past, and in despair of finding new and true friends, saw no happiness but in preserving all it could of the old.

We have now followed the progress of Byron’s life till his departure from England. In another number, we must meet him on his glorious return—and be with him till once more, heart-stricken but not heartbroken, he left—never to return—the shores where liberty has long fixed her chosen reign, to restore it, by his generosity, his genius, and his valour, to that land where of old she had her most glorious seat. Enough of him and of his character we have seen to enable us to judge it—morally and intellectually—in the light of truth. And blind and base must they be who feel not—that with all his faults and frailties—Byron was, throughout childhood—boyhood—youth—and up to manhood’s spring-prime,—a noble being. Let him be tried by what he thought—felt—and did, and he will stand even a fiery ordeal. A more affectionate heart than his never beat in a human bosom. His friendships were indeed passions; but though he sometimes accuses himself of fickleness, we see no proofs of that in his conduct. His longings for the love of brotherhood were intense and incessant; and, till they were satisfied by a return of affection, he knew no happiness. All his chosen companions were above the common stamp; and all his chosen friends
418Moore’s Byron
seem either to have been youths who, had they lived—too many of them were cut off by untimely deaths—would have been distinguished men, or youths who did grow up to distinguished manhood, and have made a figure in the world of life or letters. All meanness—unmanliness—hypocrisy, or guile, he despised or abhorred; and real worth secured his esteem in whatever rank of life it shone, whatever aspect it assumed, provided only it held up an open front to the daylight. Though, says
Mr Moore, as a child, occasionally passionate and headstrong, his docility and kindness towards those who were themselves kind, is acknowledged by all; and “playful,” and “affectionate,” are invariably the epithets by which those who knew him in his childhood convey their expressions of his character. When a mere child, he did not let his faithful nurse, May Gray, return to Scotland, without giving her, as a keepsake, his own gold watch. At Southwell, when a boy, we have seen him purchasing a Bible for a pauper; and at all times with a “hand open as day to melting charity.” A little later on, when he was child or boy no longer—but man indeed—we learn from the gratitude of an accomplished scholar, who did not desire to conceal from the world the merit of such a noble benefaction, that he thought little of a thousand-pound free gift to a friend who needed it. The price of his first great work he handed over to Mr Dallas; and to one creature—who afterwards, in malignant idiocy, accused him of avarice—he gave the means of transport from England to Italy, with wife and children, a house to live in rent-free, furniture, and a hundred pounds or two for pocketmoney—to change sickness and starvation into health and comfort. At all times generous—on many occasions he was munificent. Nor did he ever wish gratitude to take any other shape—to breathe any other spirit—but love. Such was he—in spite of the selfishness of genius—and genius in many moods has been selfish ever—in spite of that misanthropy which fate and fortune forced into his heart, but which found no dwelling-place there, among the multitude of thoughts within it, often bitter enough, yet in their worst bitterness yearning towards his kind, nor in their own melancholy shut up against the miseries of others, whether the unfortunate or the wicked.

If his friendships were passions,—what were his loves? They were as pure as ever were Imagination’s dreams. “We have seen,” says Mr Moore, “with what passionate enthusiasm he threw himself into his boyish friendships. The all-absorbing and unsuccessful love that followed, was the agony, without being the death, of this unsated desire, which lived through life, filled his poetry with the very soul of tenderness, lent the colouring of its lights even to those unworthy ties, which vanity or passion led him afterwards to form, and was the last aspiration of his fervid spirit, in those stanzas written but a few months before his death:
‘’Tis time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it has ceased to move;
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!’”

If such a being had had a mother and sisters worthy of him, how might his love for them—continuous and placid—have softened all that was sullen, and lightened all that was dark in his spirit! His sister Augusta, who was worthy of his love, he scarcely knew in youth. And what a mother! Prodigal of the poker, and untenacious of the tongs! One seems to be brought into the midst of the violence and vulgarity of hovel-life. Yet all this his filial piety—call it by no other name—withstood; and still sanctified to his heart the name of mother. This was a triumph such as nature has, in such circumstances, seldom shewn. Such a son weeping over the corpse of such a mother! The eye-sight of his heart was strong; and he saw that his mother loved him, and that she had her own worth. With slenderest means, she had supported the husband who had deceived and deserted her; with slenderest means, she had provided ease and comfort for himself,—and for all that, and more than that, which a son only knows, he forgave, forgot, and deplored.

With a soul thus endowed with such a capacity, and power, and passion for passion, no wonder that Byron was prone to melancholy. He
Moore’s Byron419
had just glimpses of joy divine sufficient to make gloom darker as they disappeared. Sacred as friendship is, never yet was it a solace to man’s heart in lieu of love. Byron knew—at least he felt—and all impassioned spirits take feeling for knowledge—that this world and this life never could be to him what it might have been, had he won one heart to his bosom. That master-passion brought all others within its sway; and melancholy clouded them all—because to it melancholy was its very food. That Byron should at the same time have been one of the wittiest of men, and that with flashes of glee and merriment, and wildest humour, he could—sitting in solitude—put a million far-off tables on the roar—can seem strange only to the bats and owls of mankind.

Unfortunately—fatally—Byron began, while a mere boy, to be an unbeliever. “With him,” says Mr Moore, after some sayings of a very questionable kind, “the canker shewed itself ‘in the morn and dew of youth,’ when the effect of such ‘blastments’ is for every reason most fatal; and, in addition to the real misfortune of being an unbeliever at any age, he exhibited the rare and melancholy spectacle of an unbelieving schoolboy. The same prematurity of developement which brought his passions and genius so early into action, enabled him also to anticipate this worst, dreariest result of reason; and at the very time of life when a spirit and temperament like his most required control, those checks which religious prepossessions best supply, were almost wholly wanting.” He was—or strove to think he was—a deist. Some of his poetry, written so early as 1806, breathes a fervent and devout spirit of natural religion. Surely, he never lost hope in the immortality of the soul! Yet it seems to have wavered—as it ever must do—in the virtuous as much perhaps as in the vicious—and in very mixed characters more than in any other—without the fan and fuel of the Christian faith. There is a fearful fascination in all unhallowed thoughts that dare to speculate too curiously on the brink of the grave. Sympathy with the dread that breathes upon us mortal creatures from the wormy and clammy clay makes Sadducees. Yet a thousand thoughts had
That shamed the wisdom of the Sadducees.”

The philosophic melancholy of some stanzas in Childe Harold about “the land of souls beyond that sable flood,” reminds us of some sublime sentences of Tacitus, when meditating on the death of Agricola. Yet let not those whom happiness and friendship have in youth guarded from infidelity, too severely judge him whom wretched and miserable feelings drove to the gates of doubt—and with whom more than one friend, whom he loved and trusted, were willing to walk, or lead him through those gates into the dark regions of disbelief. Let them pity—while they condemn—the unhappy being. Unhappy, indeed, with all the mental gifts a gracious God had bestowed upon him, “who anticipated the worst experience, both of the voluptuary and the reasoner, readied, as he supposed, the boundary of this world s pleasures, and saw nothing but clouds and darkness beyond—the anomalous doom, which a nature, premature in all its passions and powers, reflected on Lord Byron.” That his moral being waxed strong and even pure in youth as it did, under the baneful influence of such a creed, proves that his creed was not permanently dark, or unbroken in upon from on High, by flashes of light. And it proves, too, that the soul that escaped from it,—not unscathed, indeed, nor unpolluted,—but with so many virtues,—must needs have been formed “in the prodigality of Heaven.”

Let us not be so far misunderstood, as to seem to sanction any sacrifice of the claims of morality and religion—to Genius. But in Byron’s case, and in Burns’s too, some self-elected judges and guardians of morality and religion have, in pronouncing decision on their characters, spoken as if Genius were not only no palliation, but an aggravation of guilt. They have also refused to admit the plea of the Passions. But such plea will be heard at a far different tribunal. What Byron’s sins may have been up to the time he first left England we know not; but as far as Mr Moore’s narrative throws any light
420Moore’s Byron
upon them—and he attempts no concealment—they seem to have been neither numerous nor great.

He was no seducer of female innocence. He was not a gambler. Nobody ever said he was a drunkard. What then were his sins? Ask your own heart, and it will answer, Probably the same as your own. But he moved before the eyes of the world, an object conspicuous in his own light; and thus the stains on his “bright and shining youth” were visible both near and afar, while the blots on yours have been unobserved, in its obscurity and insignificance. Were a sudden revelation to be made, before the eyes of the little world in which you move, (we mean nothing personal,) of all your delinquencies, into what a horrible monster would you be transformed! You, the immaculate, would be covered over with black and yellow spots, like a leopard or the plague.

In Byron’s after life, there was much to condemn; “things ensued that wanted grace;” but let us not heap upon his youth all the charges to which he may plead guilty in more advanced years. Above all, let us not heap upon it charges now known to be as false as ever were canted from the lips of malignant hypocrisy; nor believe that there was any resemblance at all between him—a noble, but self-misguided man, and the picture of the Fiend, painted to represent him, by stupid sinners, whose imaginations could soar no higher than the old story of the Devil with Horns. But the truly pious,—they who, knowing the corruption of our nature, have by that knowledge been taught
“Still to suspect, and still revere themselves
In lowliness of thought,”
will see in Byron a fallen brother like themselves; and instead of loudly declaiming against his sins, which they cannot know, silently repent of their own, and keep aloof from all temptation to those which do the most easily beset them, perhaps as fatal as any that ever vanquished Byron. So shall the cause of Morality and Religion be upheld by their “Flaming Ministers”—Justice and Truth.

Now—no more. Recollecting Southey’s Life of Nelson, and Lockhart’s Life of Burns, we do not hesitate to say, that as far as our knowledge extends, Moore’s Life of Byron is the best book of Biography in the English language.

Printed by Ballantyne and Co., Paul’s Work; Edinburgh.